MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Li Na is much seen herself among the young women's circuit players at the beginning of last year.

The double Grand Slam champion has not hesitated to identify the Japanese Naomi Osaka as the player of the future.

Then Li, who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in July with former Australian Open champions Mary Pierce and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, was not surprised to see Osaka win the 2018 US Open.

Osaka, 21, has reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open this week.

"When I saw Naomi Osaka playing for the first time, I thought she was very calm and very mature on the court," said Li in comments translated at a press conference. at the Australian Open. "She was so focused on her game itself, no pressure, point by point, this quality and the concentration of the player really impressed."

Li said it was a defeat for Kim Clijsters in his first Grand Slam final at the Rod Laver Arena, which became the catalyst for his major breakthrough on the same title three years later.

"The most memorable here at the Australian Open was the women's final of 2011. Although I lost it, it gave me confidence and the courage to tell me that I could do it," he said. she said. "I was about to become Grand Slam champion."

Li lost another Australian singles final two years later against Victoria Azarenka, after winning the first set, before winning the trophy by defeating Dominika Cibulkova in two sets in the 2014 final.

As a mother – she had a daughter in 2015 and a son the following year – Li marveled at how Serena Williams and Azarenka are reconciling their tennis commitments while traveling the world with young children.

"Yeah, I can not imagine, like Serena or Azarenka, playing at the same time, and then worrying about the family," she said. "I could not do that."

Li was a pioneer in women's tennis, becoming the first Chinese player to win a WTA title in 2004 and the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title after winning the 2011 French Open. won the Australian Open in 2014 after losing two finals here.

Todd Martin, general manager of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, believes that Li's international emergence has had a decisive influence on the sport.

"I think the Hall of Fame is not just an organ that recognizes the big game, it's the steward of the history of our sport," Martin said. "If you are planning 50 years, 100 years, 200 years, you can only imagine that the sport will continue to flourish and that it will be a mass sport in China and throughout Asia."


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