Li confident she can hold off youngsters

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Li_Shara1

REUTERS

Li Na of China.

Hong Kong – China's Australian Open finalist Li Na said Thursday she is confident she can use her hard-won experience to hold off the emerging generation of players as she chases more Grand Slam glory.

The former French Open champion came up short against world No 1 Victoria Azarenka in the final of the year's first major in Melbourne in January but predicts another two years at the top of the women's game.

Turning 31 in February, Li is roughly the same age as America's 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, which counts as old in a sport packed with aspiring youngsters.

“Right now I've been playing for many years so I've got some experience as well,” said the world No 5. “And also, never give up. This for me is more important and also why I can keep the level for a couple of years.”

Li overcame Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova on her impressive run to the final in Australia, where she twisted her ankle twice and briefly blacked out before losing to the Belarusian in three sets.

But as well as success for some of the established names, the tournament also saw the new generation make their mark as American Sloane Stephens, 19, knocked out her idol and tennis great Williams in the quarter-finals.

Britain's Laura Robson, 19, continued her good progress by reaching the third round while the likes of Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys have been tipped as stars of the future.

“Of course right now so many young players grow up. They play well as well. So you can still see everyone's working hard. 2013 should be another fantastic year for all of them,” said Li, whose win at the 2011 French Open made her the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Unlike Williams, who has set her sights on defending her Olympic crown at the Rio Games in 2016, Li, speaking by teleconference from Wuhan in China, would not be drawn on how long she will continue.

“For me I didn't think too far. You never know how the body is feeling and everyone is different. Maybe one day after waking up I will feel my body can't handle it any more and I will retire.”

But Li, who has won seven WTA titles, said she would like to secure another Grand Slam after success came relatively late in her career.

“I wish it.... I will try the maximum and have hard working the whole team. Really looking forward for this year.”

With compatriots Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai also in the world's top 50, Li is confident that tennis in China has a strong future.

“I know right now so many children want to take up the tennis racquet. It's not only because of Li Na, it's because China tennis (is) growing up.”

Li, due to play an exhibition match in Hong Kong on March 4 as part of the BNP Paribas Tennis Showdown against Caroline Wozniacki, said she would see a doctor on Monday about her ankle before resuming training. – Sapa-AFP


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