Tennis star Li Na targets new Hong Kong Open next year
Grand slam star pledges to 'fight' to be part of WTA event next year, which will be the first professional tournament in city since 2002
World No 5 Li Na yesterday threw her support behind Hong Kong when told the city would next year host its own WTA event, breaking a professional tournament drought that dates back a decade.
"I will fight for the chance to come [in 2014]," said Li, who will be in town next month for the BNP Paribas Showdown exhibition event. "It depends on my physical condition," added the 30-year-old. "I can't guarantee that I will come [in 2014]. After all there are still some unknown factors."
The Hong Kong Open will be staged from September 8 next year, a week after the US Open finishes in New York - a fact that will increase the chances of local fans seeing Li in action. The Hong Kong event has been given "International" status by the Women's Tennis Association, which places it one rung below the organisation's top-level "Premier" events, which in turn sit below the grand slams.
The WTA has also scheduled a Premier event for Li's hometown of Wuhan from September 22 next year - just before the China Open in Beijing from September 29.
Guangzhou will host an International-level event from September 15. Despite a long and rich history of hosting international tennis events, Hong Kong has been without a formally recognised tournament since the ATP's Hong Kong Open event was held at Victoria Park in 2002.
The long-running Hong Kong Tennis Classic exhibition event was last held in 2011 but fell victim to a loss of sponsorship.
Tennis-starved fans are, however, being thrown a lifeline on March 4, when the BNP Paribas Showdown pits Li against world No11 Caroline Wozniacki, with the men's action on the day being provided by a clash between grand slam-winning veterans Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe.
"It's always fun to play against her - she is a great player," said Li, who holds a head-to-head record over the Dane of three victories to two.
"I said to her at the Australian Open in Melbourne, 'Okay, we will fight each other in Hong Kong.' I get along really well with her and her family so I'm looking forward to the event. It should be a lot of fun."
Li revealed yesterday she had not picked up a racquet since her loss to world No1 Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open final in Melbourne last Saturday.
Li lost in a three-set thriller that saw the 2011 French Open champion fall heavily and twist her ankle twice.
She said she had just been relaxing at her mother's home in Wuhan and would travel to see a doctor in Germany on Monday to fully assess the damage.
Li said she remained hopeful she would be fit enough to take part in the Qatar Total Open, which starts in Doha on February 11.