Peng Shuai is first star to confirm appearance at Hong Kong Open
China's top doubles player is honoured to come for first WTA tournament in more than a decade
China's top player - in doubles - is the first marquee athlete to confirm her appearance in the WTA Championship in September at Victoria Park.
Organisers who targeted Australian Open champion Li Na on Sunday confirmed that Peng Shuai is the mainland player who will be one of the top drawcards when Hong Kong returns to the world of professional tennis after more than a decade.
Li, the world number two, had turned down overtures due to scheduling reasons. The Chinese star will be playing in the US Open, which will be held before the Hong Kong tournament. Li, however, will be seen in action on Monday night at the BNP Paribas Showdown, an exhibition event at the cycling velodrome in Tseung Kwan O.
"We are thrilled to have secured Peng Shuai for the inaugural Hong Kong Open," said tournament director Stephen Duckitt. "But Li Na will not be able to participate this year due to scheduling issues."
In January, Duckitt met Li's agent during the Australian Open in Melbourne and made a formal approach, but said he was doubtful she would be able to play in Hong Kong in September.
"As a top player, Li will be expected to advance to the final stages of the US Open, which ends on the Sunday - when our tournament [qualifiers] begin," Duckitt said at the time. "It would be a stretch of the imagination to hope that if she reaches the latter stages [in the US] that she will turn up in Hong Kong in a couple of days."
Peng made history last month by becoming the first Chinese player, male or female, to claim the number one ranking in either singles or doubles, courtesy of a stellar 2013 season, which saw her capture five doubles titles including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, with playing partner Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.
"I am very much looking forward to playing the Hong Kong Open. It is an honour for me to be one of the first players asked by the tournament to participate and I can't wait to play singles and doubles. Of course, I would love to spend some time off the court to do some shopping too!" said Peng in a statement released by the organisers.
It is believed Hong Kong number one Lynn Zhang Ling may partner Peng in the doubles.
The 28-year old Peng is also an accomplished singles player, having ranked as high as 14, and will compete in both singles and doubles at this year's tournament. The Tianjin native is still searching for her maiden WTA singles title, having competed in six finals, with her most recent appearance at the Shenzhen Open final in January.
Run by the Hong Kong Tennis Association, the 32-draw singles event and doubles will be played for a purse of US$250,000.