Asian Li Na keeping the host flag high in the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific

By Jayanta Oinam | Updated: Jan 25, 2014, 00:30 AM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Jayanta Oinam

Melbourne: The season opener at Melbourne Park echoes with two distinct geographical denouements, that of Asia and Pacific. There are French Open and US Open each named after the countries which play hosts and of course, the sanguine Wimbledon of all whites.

But the terming of Australian Open, certainly has to do with the Tasmanian nation, as the Grand Slam of the Asia/Pacific tells a much bigger story than being an Australian event. Australian Open has been in existence since the turn of the 20th century. However, for the continental Asia, still today, there is none. The many ATP and WTA tour tournaments, despite star-attractions, cannot be taken in the same status as those of the Slams.

Initially known as the Australasian Open, the tournament had been a happy ground for the Australians, with the likes of Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. However, ever since tennis became open in 1968, it has instead became the Happy Open for the tourists. The last Australian to win a singles` trophy was Chris O`Neil in 1978. Then it was curtailed for the Australians, kind of a jinx for the Aussies and the hosts.

However, gutsy performance from a player from a region miles away from the Pacific rim has lifted the spirits of everyone involved in organising the tournament. She came close to breaking that jinx twice in the last three years. But both the times, she faltered in the deciding set. Now, it`s her third essay in the finals. And if the form-book is to be accounted, she is in her prime.

Many doubted Li Na, a diminutive Chinese, considering the physicality displayed by the likes of Serena, Azarenka, Sharapova and their elk. But the beacon of Asian tennis has her ways in the court, while playing such players. When she became the first player from the whole of Asia to win a Grand Slam singles title at the Roland Garros in 2011, many doubted her game and longevity.

The fact was, tennis has never been a sport for the Asians, except the occasional stars in Indian Vijay Amritraj and Thai Paradorn Srichaphan. Yes, the doubles scenario is different, with the Indian duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi leading the way for many Asians to try their hand in the shorter format and lesser known courts.

However, everything can be changed when Li Na takes court on Saturday against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia . The world no. 4 player will be bidding to become the first host-player to win the singles trophy at the Melbourne Park in a very very long time.