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Media need Li more than they realize

Global Times (2014-02-25 P22)
By Mark Dreyer
At the launch of the new edition of her book on Saturday, Chinese tennis star Li Na said she ­wanted to win more Grand Slam titles and claim the No.1 ranking in the world.

Those goals are unsurprising, given that she's already cemented her place in history as Asia's best-ever tennis player and having recently risen up to No.2 in the rankings, there is only one place left for her to go.

The health of the world's No.1 player Serena Williams - still overwhelmingly dominant on the Tour when free from injury - will have something to do with whether Li can achieve those goals. But arguably Li's biggest obstacle remains off the court: the Chinese media.

Such a wall has been built up between the two sides over the years that it now seems impenetrable. Li has been stung by so many incidents in the past that every interview or news conference now appears to start off on the wrong foot. By contrast, the media here mistake Li's defensive attitude and sometimes brusque manner for arrogance.

The fact that Li is now so loved by the ­foreign press - especially after her Australian Open ­victory speech went viral and drew praise from all around the world - only serves to highlight that difference, with domestic reporters feeling that they are treated as second-class citizens by one of their own.

But China's sports media should realize that they owe a great debt to the star. There are now three separate magazines in China that ­specialize in tennis: There is no way that they would all be commercially viable - or have ­respectable circulation numbers - without Li's success. More generally, Li is China's most ­famous active sports star today and, as a result, brings a lot of attention to the sports pages and websites.

Now that Li's star has gone global with her second major title, it's clear that China's sports media need Li more than she needs them - as much as they would hate to admit it.

With IMG representation behind her, Li is already sponsored by five large international firms. In no way has she forsaken her Chinese roots - she is largely the reason why her hometown Wuhan now has a Premier-level tournament on the WTA calendar - but expect to see her focus continue to be global, both on and off the court.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.
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