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Grand Sam: Stosur seeks to go seven-up against Li on Hong Kong debut

Sam Stosur will look to extend her record of six straight wins against Li Na when she takes on the Chinese superstar at the Hong Kong Velodrome on March 3. Photos: Getty Images.

Sam Stosur will look to extend her record of six straight wins against Li Na when the Australia No. 1 faces the China No. 1 at the Hong Kong Velodrome on March 3. Photos: Getty Images.

Australian star SAM STOSUR will play in Hong Kong for the first time on March 3 when she takes on Li Na in the sold-out BNP Paribas Showdown. In an open interview, the 2011 US Open champion tries to play down the fact she has beaten Li in all six of their previous encounters – and admits she has never even been inside a Velodrome …


By SportAsia


The BNP Paribas Showdown featuring Lleyton Hewitt against Tomas Berdych, and yourself taking on Li Na was sold out before the end of January. Are you looking forward to playing in Hong Kong?

It’s great to hear that the event’s sold-out, so that’s going to be awesome. I’ve never actually been to Hong Kong before. I’ve been to the airport many, many times, but I’ve never actually been into the city so I’m really looking forward to it.


I’m feeling really good about my game and it has been a pretty good start to the year. I was really pleased with the way I played throughout the [Australian] summer, so I’m really looking forward to playing in Hong Kong and hopefully I’ll get a chance to see a bit of the city.


Lleyton Hewitt, a fellow Aussie, will also be playing the same night. How well do you know him and what are your thoughts about his Brisbane success last month when he beat Roger Federer in the final?

That was a huge week for Lleyton, winning in Brisbane. That was a great effort to go through and win that event.


We didn’t grow up playing the same tournaments because he’s a little bit older than me, so I actually don’t know Lleyton that well, but obviously I have great respect for what he’s been able to do. I guess the most public event we had together was at the Olympic Games, so to be in that environment with someone like Lleyton, who’s obviously a great team player and loves his sport … to be part of the Australian team was fantastic.


Stosur, 29, has been ranked as high as World No. 4.

Stosur, 29, has been ranked as high as World No. 4.

You’ll be playing against Li Na within a cycling track at the Hong Kong Velodrome in Tseung Kwan O. Have you ever played in a Velodrome before?

I’ve never even been inside a Velodrome before, so that’s going to be something completely new for me. I guess that even though a tennis court is very big in some ways, you can almost put one anywhere, so we’re used to playing in indoor stadiums that aren’t designed specifically for tennis but for many different sports and concerts. I guess it’s just another new thing to experience as a tennis player.


You’ve won all six of your previous meetings against Li Na – in 2007, 2010 and four times in 2011. What are you expecting in Hong Kong when she will play as the reigning Australian Open champion?

For whatever reason, I’ve always had success against Li Na when we’ve played, but there have been some very, very tough matches. I enjoy playing against her. Like I said, it’s always tough and even though I’ve won, it’s never easy.


It has been a couple of years since we last played. In that time she has improved again, started working with Carlos Rodriguez and you can tell that’s she started to incorporate some other things into her game. She has had great success with him.


Playing her in Hong Kong will be a great opportunity to get on the court with her again and see for myself what’s a little bit different about her game. She obviously played exceptionally well to win in Melbourne, so this will be a good opportunity to play her again. She has definitely improved since the last time we played, so there’s no guarantee I’ll win the next time.


What will your game plan be?

She’s a tough competitor. No matter what the situation or where you play her, she always gives 100 per cent, so you have to do the same and fight hard for every point. You have to play an aggressive style of tennis, because she likes to step into the court, and she’s definitely moving forward to the net a little bit more now. You’ve got to do the same back to her, so she can’t feel that she can do everything she wants. She’s a great ball striker and a good mover, and just really tough to play against.


What do you remember about your last match against her, when you won 6-1, 6-0 at the 2011 WTA Championships in Istanbul?

I remember a little bit about that match. The end-of-year Championships can be funny. I’ve had some really good wins and I’ve had some losses that I was really disappointed with. She has, as well. I do remember that match and I played very well and obviously didn’t allow her to play the way she wanted to.


I had a good day that day, so that was good for me, but like I said, all because you win those ones and you have a good record against someone, that doesn’t mean you can expect that to happen the next time you play her.


 Stosur won the Southern Californian Open last August.

Stosur won the Southern Californian Open last August.

When you play exhibition matches, do both of you inherently want to beat each other, even though there are no ranking points or prize money on offer?

Yeah, I guess so. Of course, there’s nothing really on the line, but like any time we play a practice set or a real match, I don’t think anybody with our competitiveness ever wants to lose. For sure, we’ll give it everything we’ve got.


I think the more important thing with exhibitions is that you have a little bit of fun with it or maybe try out a couple of things in your game, so you’re absolutely giving 100 per cent in your game, but you’re more relaxed. The crowd obviously want to see a great match and for it to be competitive, so you owe it to them to give it 100 per cent, but you can still have a good time, play well and enjoy the moment.


What do you think of Li Na’s aspirations to become World No. 1 and is age against her at 31?

If you’re No. 3 now, then of course you want to take any chance to be No. 1. We all know how dominant Serena [Williams] has been for the last year or two, but Li Na has won the Australian Open, she’s three in the world, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t believe that. If I was in her position, I would like to think that I could do that, too.


Li Na is now playing her best tennis now. Serena is 32 and there are a lot of players around the age of 30, so I don’t think age means it’s out of the question to be the best. Being healthy is the most important thing, so if you are, why not.


What did you think of Li Na’s speech after winning the Australian Open?

I loved it. I thought it was obviously very funny, but I don’t necessarily think that she was trying to be funny – I think that’s just her. She is just very down to earth, has a really good character and she is funny.


I think she said from the heart, whatever she felt. Everybody was laughing and it was certainly big news, so I think she really showed who she really is and what she’s like. I think it was great. She’s one of the players out on tour that I like to talk to and she genuinely does make you laugh.


What do you think about the future for other Chinese players?

Obviously Li Na has been the highest ranked and had the most success. She’s right up the top there. Zheng Jie has made some semi-finals in Grand Slams and won doubles Grand Slams, and she’s a good player herself in her own right.


Peng Shuai has done well and Zhang Shuai as well. I know Zhang a little bit, as we played doubles in Osaka. She’s a player who tries exceptionally hard, gives it everything, and she’s a very nice girl. I’ve come to know her a little bit better in the last few months, I’ve enjoyed practising with her and would like to see her do well. There have been a few others along the way. I remember Li Ting and Sun Tiantian and they won a doubles gold medal.


I think China’s having very, very good success in women’s tennis at the moment. With Li Na’s success especially, I’m sure tennis is only going to get more popular in China, with all of the others trying to get higher, trying to do what Li Na’s doing, so I don’t see any reason why China won’t get stronger and stronger, and have more players in the top 100.


Sam Stosur has won five WTA singles title and reached a further 14 finals.

Sam Stosur has won five WTA singles title and reached a further 14 finals.

Do you believe you can get yourself back to the top 10?

Yeah. I dropped a little bit last year. I do think I’ve got a chance to get back up there. I think I’m playing well enough and certainly have the drive and motivation to get back to where I was in the top 10 and hopefully even better. It’s never easy, but I think at the moment I’m going to give myself every chance I can to do better. You have to have good results in the biggest tournaments, so hopefully I can do better in all the Grand Slams, play well in those weeks and see my ranking improve.


Are you confident you can win another Grand Slam, to follow your win at the 2011 US Open?

That would be a big goal, to win another Grand Slam. I know what it takes; I know what I had to do in New York to win there. As soon as I had that success, I wanted to try to do it again. Every Grand Slam is an opportunity to try to win.


I think if I’m playing well, then I have a good chance. Obviously you have to be playing well, a few things have to go your way along with a little bit of luck, so a lot goes into winning a Grand Slam. Of course, I’d love to win another one.


Do you think you have a good chance of winning the French Open, where you’ve done well in the past, reaching the final in 2010 and semis in 2009 and 2012?

You want to peak at all the big tournaments, really. Considering the results I’ve had at the French Open in recent years, I definitely would like to try and do well that tournament again and do better than I did last year.


It’s definitely a goal to do well there, but there are lot of other major tournaments I’d like to do well in as well. The clay-court time of year is really good. I really enjoy it because I like playing on clay. The French Open is the biggest of those tournaments, so if you can do well there, it’s going to be a great result. Hopefully I can do what I did a few years ago.


You’ve done extremely well in Paris and New York, but what about Wimbledon? Is it your least favourite tournament?

I enjoy being there, but I’ve certainly not had very good results compared to the others. I’ve found it difficult to play on the grass in recent years. Last year was probably the best I’ve felt I’ve been able to play there, so that gives me something positive to draw on when I go back to Wimbledon.


It’s more about what I think about it, more than my ability. I have to stay more positive and understand what I can do very well on grass and things that I struggle with. I’ve done well in the lead-up tournaments before, so I think I can do better than I have at Wimbledon. I’m going to try to improve that this year.


Finally, what are you most looking forward to in Hong Kong and what have other players told you about the city?

To be honest, I’ve haven’t heard that much, because we haven’t had that many tournaments in Hong Kong. When they used to have that [exhibition] tournament in the lead-up to the Australian Open, I didn’t know too many of those players too well, but from what I know from people who have gone there on holiday, there’s lots to do and lots to see.


The thing I love checking out the most in different cities is the different food, going out to eat, that sort of thing. I’ve been to the airport probably 100 times and it’s a good airport, so if that’s anything to go by, I’m sure the rest of the city is going to be great.

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