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China's Li Na serves at last year's French Open. Photo: EPA

Li Na still lone Asian tennis superstar

Since Chinese player's 2011 title victory, little talent in region has failed to rise up ranks

Li Na

Li Na's momentous French Open title win of 2011 was expected to open the floodgates for Asian - and in particular Chinese - players in world tennis.

Two years on, little has changed, with sixth-ranked Li being the only Asian player currently ranked inside the woman's global top 30.

Li apart, none of the Asian contingent is expected to progress far in the draw on the clay courts at Roland Garros, and that will come as a blow to the head of the Women's Tennis Association, Stacey Allaster, who has identified Asia as the bright future of the sport.

Allaster, who has recognised the importance of Li to the sport, is pulling out all the stops to commercialise the women's game on the continent, especially with flagging interest in the United States.

"She is the most important player of the decade for me," Allaster said recently. "Tennis in the Asia-Pacific region has a lot of growth potential."

Li's season to date has been somewhat of a roller-coaster, starting with a magnificent run into the final of the Australian Open in January where she lost to Victoria Azarenka after an epic battle that left her with a badly sprained left ankle.

That injury sidelined her until March, when she returned to action at Miami, losing to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals.

Moving on to clay, Li lost in the final at Stuttgart to Maria Sharapova, but she then went out early in both Madrid and Rome.

Key to her chances in Paris will be the presence of Carlos Rodriguez, the former coach of Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, who has been helping the Chinese player since last summer.

Asked in Madrid what he brought to her game, Li replied: "I have been training so hard with Carlos.

"I was so happy he could come to my team to coach me. I think for me, he's not only a tennis coach. I think after I had been working with him I feel much stronger in my mind and also much stronger on the court."

"I have to listen to him because I trust him a lot."

On top of that Li believes that she will come into Paris with less of the spotlight on her compared with last year when she was the defending champion.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Li Na still lone Asian superstar 2 years on