Japan's Erika Sema returning a shot during the BMW Malaysian Open qualifying in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. She failed to make the main draw after losing to Italian Giula Gatto-Monticone in three sets- RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/ The Star.
KUALA LUMPUR: There is no doubt that China’s world No. 2 Li Na has pretty much been the face of Asian tennis.
Li Na became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam when she captured the French Open in 2011 before adding the Australian Open to her trophy cabinet this year.
Her success is a testament to the rise of Asian tennis players in the world.
As such, the stage is set for Asian players to stamp their mark when the main draw of the BMW Malaysia Open starts at the Royal Selangor Golf Club on Monday.
Second seed and world No. 46 Zhang Shuai acknowledged that her compatriot Li Na’s success has paved the way for more interest in tennis in the region, especially in China.
“What Li Na has achieved has been a breakthrough and, because of that, there are more people picking up tennis back home,” said Zhang Shuai.
“Previously, the traditional sports for children back home had always been table tennis and badminton ... but tennis is fast catching up.
“I believe that tennis is definitely on the rise in Asia... we have players in the top ranks and even in doubles, the top pair in the world is from Asia (Peng Shuai-Hsieh Su-wei).
“So, it’s not entirely impossible to see more champions emerge from Asia in the future.”
Eighth seed and world No. 112 Ayumi Morita of Japan feels the same, saying Asian tennis would soon reach the same heights as its Western counterparts.
“For Japan, we’ve had Kurumi (Nara) who won the Rio Open this year and is already ranked inside the top 50 (No. 43) ... so we’re definitely pushing hard,” said Ayumi, who will be the only player to compete in every Malaysian Open since its inception in 2010.
With injured American Venus Williams pulling out at the eleventh hour, Zhang Shuai and last year’s semi-finalist Ayumi should do well this time.
“It’s a good draw but there’s no pressure on me ... although I’m the second seed. I’ve had some good results last year and I just want to play well in every match,” said Zhang Shuai, who lost in the second round last year.
Sunday’s qualifying finals saw two Asian players – Japan’s Eri Hozumi and China’s Duan Ying-Ying – progressing to the main draw where they will face Austria’s Patricia Mayr-Achleitner and Croatia’s Ana Vrljic respectively.