China's Li welcomes hometown tournament in 2014

SYDNEY Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:55pm IST

Serena Williams of the U.S. holds the ball and racket at a match in New York, August 30, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/Files

Serena Williams of the U.S. holds the ball and racket at a match in New York, August 30, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes/Files

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Former French Open champion Li Na welcomed the arrival of a top tennis tournament to her hometown of Wuhan from 2014 on Thursday, saying she would ensure victory by fattening up her rivals on local delicacies.

The WTA Tour said on Thursday that the new Wuhan tournament would from next season replace the Pan Pacific Open, which has been held in Tokyo for the last three decades.

"It's special city for me, of course, as I was born and grew up there," Li told reporters after losing to Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals of the Sydney International.

"The easy way for me (to win) if my good friends on the tour come to Wuhan is to show them how good the food is. So they will eat first and then won't be able to move on court.

"No, no, that's just joke. I hope if have they have time, I can take them to look around my hometown. There are so many areas I can show them if they have time."

In a sign of China's growing importance in women's tennis, the world's most populous nation will host five tournaments from 2014, including another new lower tier event in the special administrative region of Hong Kong.

China already boasts Beijing's China Open, one of the WTA's crown jewel events that stand just below the grand slams, as well as the Guangzhou International and the Shenzhen Open, which Li won last week on its debut.

GOOD ECONOMY

The tournament in Wuhan, a city with a population of 10 million people in central China, would be a second tier event on the WTA tour with around $2 million in prize money.

The WTA, which opened its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Beijing in 2008, has also added another three events in China to its developmental tour for 2013 to bring the total to six.

"Because the economy is good," joked Li when asked why China was attracting new events, before adding: "I think it's because tennis in Asia has grown a lot, and of course in China as well this last couple of years. So many children have picked up tennis rackets."

The Pan Pacific Open has been held in Tokyo since 1984 and counts Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova among its former champions.

The 30th and last version of the event will take place from September 22-28 this year.

Wuhan is known as one of China's "furnaces" because of its fierce heat in Summer.

Li, who played in temperatures well in excess of 40 degrees Celsius in Sydney on Tuesday, said with the tournament taking place in September, players would not be exposed to the worst excesses of the heat.

"It should be around 25, something like that, so it should be okay," she said. "Yeah, not like here..."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)

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