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China's Li raises Asian Slam hopes

sports Updated: Jan 16, 2011 12:09 IST

AFP
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China's Li Na has raised genuine hopes of bringing home Asia's first-ever Grand Slam singles title after shocking hot favourite Kim Clijsters just days before the Australian Open.

Li goes into the season's first Grand Slam in buoyant mood after her convincing 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 victory over Clijsters, a seven-time major-winner, in the Sydney International final on Friday.

"Maybe right now I can say I am more confident on the court or I believe I can play much better," Li said afterwards.

"I have played here (Sydney) for many years and every time I see the name of the past champions every year I think about when my name will be there.

"And when you to the centre court, you can see many pictures so next year I will see my picture there as well... yeah, it feels great."

The 28-year-old from Wuhan will expect to go deep into the Australian Open draw after her surprise run to last year's semi-finals -- alongside compatriot Zheng Jie -- where she was beaten by eventual winner Serena Williams.

However, the American great is sidelined after a freak foot injury sustained by stepping on glass in a bar, leaving this year's tournament impossible to predict.

Li, seeded nine, plays Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson in her first match with Venus Williams looming in the quarter-finals. Out-of-sorts world number one Caroline Wozniacki is also in her half of the draw.

"She's definitely a player who has every quality to win a Grand Slam," Clijsters said. "She's definitely a player who can beat any top player out there when she's playing her best."

Last year Li reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the second time in her career, before being ousted by Serena Williams and she also made it to the 2009 US Open quarters where she was beaten by Clijsters.

Li, who is coached by her husband, will largely carry Chinese hopes as Zheng, who teamed with Yan Zi to win the 2006 Australian Open and Wimbledon women's doubles -- China's first Grand Slam titles -- is out injured.

World number 62 Peng Shuai will be boosted by winning the Asian Games gold medal in November, while Japan's 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm will hope for more Slam heroics after stunning Dinara Safina at last year's French Open.

India's Sania Mirza has qualified for the opening round where she has a tough encounter with seven-time major winner Justine Henin.

Japanese star Kei Nishikori, 21, will be hopeful of making a dent in the men's draw after upsetting 15th-ranked Marin Cilic at this month's Chennai Open.

Nishikori, who has overcome an appendicitis scare during the World Team Challenge in Adelaide, plays Italy's Fabio Fognini in the first round with the winner facing a tough assignment against Russia's Nikolay Davydenko.

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