Li Na jokes about falls, facing defeat light-heartedly [More photos]
Key Words: Australian Open; Li Na; Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific;
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When Li Na saw all the Chinese flags and heard the cheers of "Jia You," or "Let's Go" in Mandarin, during her Australian Open final against Victoria Azarenka, she thought she might have been in Beijing.
"I can hear a lot of Chinese fans, yeah," she said after losing to Azarenka in three sets on Saturday night. "I was, oh, looks like China Open."
Li was joking, but Australian Open organizers would be pleased to hear the comparison.
The tournament has long billed itself as the "Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific," and in recent years, it has stepped up its efforts to market the tournament and court increasingly affluent and tennis-mad fans in China, specifically.
With Li making the women's final for the second time in three years, this has been remarkably easy to do.
Attracting TV viewers was the first priority. When Li, China's top player, reached her first grand slam final at Melbourne Park in 2011, losing to Kim Clijsters, the tournament garnered 120 million viewers in China.
Seeing numbers like these, Tennis Australia signed a three-year deal with China Central Television and the Shanghai Media Group to broadcast the event in China, with a guaranteed minimum number of hours of coverage.
The deal was in place in time for last year's tournament, which attracted 115 million viewers - without Li or any other Chinese player doing well.
"It'll be very interesting to see what this year's number is," said Steve Ayles, Tennis Australia's commercial director.
The tournament has also tried to build up its brand in China by taking the Australian Open trophy on a tour of the country, creating a Mandarin version of the Australian Open website and setting up an Australian Open account on China's version of Twitter, Sina weibo.
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