Li Na says she is still looking to make the Championships. Photo: AFP

Li Na denies added pressure of playing at home

Home favourite Li Na on Friday denied she felt added pressure going into the China Open – an event she has never won – as the first round draw handed her the toughest of starts.

Asia’s top women’s player, who is banking on a strong performance in Beijing to reach this season’s grand finale, will face Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, a former world number four, in a repeat of the last year French Open final.

Li defeated Schiavone, who was defending champion, 6-4, 7-6, to win her first Grand Slam but the Chinese star has struggled with consistency this year and faces a fight to make October’s WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.

The 30-year-old seventh seed, who is desperate to hang onto the eighth position she needs in the race to reach the end-of-season tournament, said she did not feel the burden of expectation by playing in front of home crowds.

“There’s pressure everywhere, right? I mean if you’re an athlete you have to be used to that so I’m feeling the same,” Li said, adding that if she isn’t able to put up a strong showing it may be her last event of the season.

“It’s the same (as other) tournaments. It’s a big tournament in China, big tournament in Beijing and also I think maybe it’s my last tournament of the year, maybe not” she added, saying that she is “still looking to make the Championships”.

Li has had an indifferent year, winning in Cincinnati last month, which was followed by a third-round exit at the US Open two weeks later and a last-16 defeat to Caroline Wozniacki at the Pan Pacific Open earlier this week.

Her recent disappointments mean she has to do well in Beijing, something she didn’t do last year, if she is to have a chance of reaching the US$4.9 million season climax.

“I know I didn’t do well last year, but that doesn’t mean anything for this year. So I’m really looking forward to this tournament,” said Li, who last time round lost in straight sets to Romanian Monica Niculescu in her opening match.

Li faces a difficult opponent in 2010 Roland Garros champion Schiavone with little separating the two in matches over the years. The Chinese star enjoys a slight 3-2 lead in head-to-heads against the Italian.

Other notable first round ties see former world number one Jelena Jankovic take on last year’s losing finalist Andrea Petkovic and world number one Victoria Azarenka play Alize Cornet of France. The first round starts Saturday.