Li Na’s Run Sparks Australian Open Wildcard Playoff in China

The Australian Open tennis tournament is organizing a wildcard playoff event in China next month to build on the sport’s rising popularity in Asia following Li Na’s Grand Slam success.

The 30-year-old Chinese player, ranked No. 8 on the women’s WTA tour, made the final of the 2011 Australian Open and went on to take that season’s French Open, the first player from Asia to win a singles title at one of the four Grand Slam events. The Australian Open will be hosting its first wildcard playoff in Nanjing, China, in October, it said today. The year’s first major tournament starts Jan. 14 in Melbourne.

“The success of China’s home-grown champion, Li Na, continues to build interest and excitement for both the sport and the tournament,” Ted Baillieu, the premier of Victoria, said today in an e-mailed statement from Tennis Australia. The Australian Open is one of the country’s “most successful events and attracts thousands of visitors from Asia each year,” he added.

The Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff will see the region’s top players compete for an entry to the tournament.

In the past eight years, there has been a 400 percent rise in the amount of visitors traveling to Melbourne for the event from the Asia-Pacific region, according to Steve Wood, chief executive officer of Tennis Australia.

‘Historic Run’

“When Li Na made her historic run to the final in 2011 we achieved the highest-ever broadcast exposure throughout Asia, and China in particular, with 135 million tuning in across the region,” Wood said in the statement.

Li lost to Kim Clijsters of Belgium in the 2011 Australian final before winning in France against Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. Her success at Roland Garros boosted ticket sales from the Asia-Pacific region at this year’s Australian Open by 30 percent from the previous year, Wood added.

Tennis Australia also announced a new exchange program with the China Open that will see six Chinese ball boys and girls displaying their skills at the Australian Open.

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