The Asian Tennis Federation hopes that the appearance of Li Na in today's Australian Open final here against Kim Clijsters will bolster the continent's chances of hosting the equivalent of a fifth Grand Slam tournament.
Li, who will be the first Chinese player to appear in a major singles final, has been told that her exploits will be rewarded with a free dinner.
"Yesterday I got a text message from the boss of the Chinese federation," Li revealed. "She said: 'Well done. When you come back I'll pay for dinner.' I said: 'What, only dinner?'"
Li, whose endearing humour has helped to light up the tournament, will be hoping to repeat her victory earlier this month in the final of the warm-up event in Sydney. The 28-year-old world No 11 beat Clijsters in straight sets despite losing the first five games.
Anil Kumar Khanna, president of the Asian federation, described Li's achievements as "a real major step forward for Asian tennis". He added: "This will go a long way in helping Asia to get a major tennis event, a Grand Slam-like tournament, maybe in the next couple of years."
Clijsters meanwhile said that 2011 would probably be her last full year on the tour. The 27-year-old Belgian came back after retirement two years ago, having originally quit in order to start a family, and has made no secret of the fact that she would like more children. "I know this is probably going to be my last full season on the tour, and then we'll see," she said.
*The Bolton teenager George Morgan's run in the boys' singles ended yesterday when he lost 6-3, 6-4 to the top seed, Jiri Vesely, in the semi-finals. The Czech winner now faces the unseeded Australian Luke Saville in the final.Reuse content