Sport & Culture

Asia’s Best Prepare for the Australian Open

Tennis prepares for its first major of the year. Who will come out on top down under?

John Duerden

Asia’s top tennis players are warming up for the first tennis major of 2013, the Australian Open. It starts next Monday and the region has contenders for both the men’s and women’s side of the draw.

Li Na is probably the best hope. The 2011 French Open champion looked good over the weekend as she won the Shenzhen Open final, beating Klara Zakopalova in three sets in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

"Klara played well and I managed my mood swings well, and I'm glad I made it," said Li.  "Winning the title certainly helps boost my confidence for the coming weeks, but it also depends on how I'm playing on the courts. Confidence itself won't guarantee a win.”

"But I'm very happy to win and the Shenzhen Open was a great tournament – I believe it will get even better in future years.”

As the world number six is coming off a tournament win, Li is looking forward to the big meet. The Chinese star has a pretty good record down under by having achieved an appearance in a semi-final and final during her last three visits.

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But she has a score to settle from last year. With the quarter-final in sight last time around, she had dropped four match-points against Kim Clijsters and suffered a disappointing loss.

After the Shenzhen win, Li was in action not much more than 48 hours later, breezing past the first round in the Sydney International on Monday. She will meet Japanese qualifier Ayumi Morita in the second round.

There was good and bad news for Japanese star Kei Nishikori. The world number eighteen was looking good against Andy Murray, the world number three, in the semi-final match of the Brisbane International before picking up a knee injury. He went from 4-1 up in the first set to losing that and the first two games of the second set before retiring.

"I feel some inflammation in my knee," said Nishikori. "The doctor told me it isn't anything serious."

"I should be back in time for the Australian Open.”

Local hopes will be pinned on Sam Stosur, winner of 2011 U.S. Open. The Queenslander has failed to progress past the last sixteen on previous visits to Melbourne but will be hoping to change that.

She is warming up at the Sydney International this week and hoping to avoid the outcome of last week at the Brisbane International. While there, she crashed out at the first round, and made a worryingly high total of 48 unforced errors.

The same happened at last year’s Australian Open. There is a feeling that playing at home, which should provide a natural advantage, is actually becoming a burden for the player.

“Sure you get nervous but there’s an adrenaline buzz that brings out the best,” said Lleyton Hewitt, fellow Aussie and former world number one. “That’s a tough thing for Sam to pass now. She’s just digging a hole and it’s harder to get out.”

“I was a 16-year-old having to play a final in Adelaide, my home town, and having to play (Andre) Agassi who was my idol, and I just loved being out there and doing it.”