Hall of Fame ready to wel­come Li Na

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - World -

Li Na’s in­duc­tion into the In­ter­na­tional Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHOF) would have mas­sive im­pli­ca­tions for the sport in Asia, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s CEO Todd Martin.

China’s two-time Grand Slam win­ner Li is well po­si­tioned to be­come Asia’s first player to join the list of greats af­ter top­ping a fan vote ahead of the judges’ fi­nal de­ci­sion on the 2019 en­tries in Jan­uary.

In Oc­to­ber it was an­nounced that Li was the pub­lic’s fa­vorite in an on­line poll ahead of fel­low nom­i­nees Go­ran Ivani­se­vic of Croa­tia, Mary Pierce of France, Rus­sia’s Yevgeny Kafel­nikov, Aus­trian Thomas Muster, Swede Jonas Bjork­man and Spa­niards Con­chita Martinez and Sergi Bruguera.

“If Li Na were to be in­ducted into the Hall of Fame, it would cer­tainly be im­pact­ful for the his­tory of our sport glob­ally and im­pact­ful for the Hall of Fame to be able to rep­re­sent that con­ti­nent,” Amer­i­can for­mer world No 4 Martin told Xin­hua.

“I think that the im­pact in Asia might be de­pen­dent on what her re­sponse to it is. I think it needs to mean the world to her be­fore it can gen­er­ate all the en­ergy in China and Asia that it po­ten­tially could.”

Since open­ing in 1954 in Newport, Rhode Is­land, the Hall of Fame Mu­seum has wel­comed 252 tennis greats, with Czech He­lena Sukova and Ger­man Michael Stich be­com­ing the lat­est in­ductees this year.

A to­tal of 23 na­tions are rep­re­sented but as yet none from Asia. The re­sult of the fan vote, a new in­no­va­tion in­tro­duced this year, bodes well for 36-year-old Li be­com­ing the first tennis Hall of Famer from her con­ti­nent.

The Wuhan na­tive be­came Asia’s first Grand Slam sin­gles cham­pion by win­ning the 2011 French Open. She also claimed the 2014 Aus­tralian Open crown be­fore her re­tire­ment that year.

“Fan vot­ing was re­ally fun. We have pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for tennis fans around the world to rem­i­nis­cence about peo­ple like Go­ran or Yevgeny Kafel­nikov or Li Na or Mary Pierce and who­ever else, much more than we ever have in the past.

“It gives fans a say and so of­ten what the fans say is ex­actly the same as the of­fi­cial vot­ers say,” said Martin.

In fu­ture years, we can surely ex­pect to see the names of Roger Fed­erer, Rafael Nadal, No­vak Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray top­ping fan polls and earn­ing the judges’ votes. But what of those other top play­ers, such as Spain’s David Fer­rer, that have played along­side these go­liaths of the men’s game? Should they re­ceive spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion con­sid­er­ing the ex­cep­tional competition they came up against?

“That is one way to look at it. Is this gen­er­a­tion go­ing to force peo­ple to think about the his­tory of our sport?” mused the 48-year-old Martin. “Might the over­whelm­ing suc­cess of these play­ers lead those who de­cide about Hall of Fame in­duc­tion to con­sider dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria in look­ing at this?

“Once upon a time you could go five to 10 years where some­body wasn’t win­ning more than a hand­ful of ma­jor ti­tles. You look at John McEnroe — he had seven and he had a long and re­ally suc­cess­ful ca­reer. Jimmy Con­nors had a crazy long ca­reer and he won eight.

“David Fer­rer was num­ber four in the world be­hind Fed­erer, Nadal and Djokovic be­fore Mur­ray re­ally got his bear­ings. Sus­tain­ing that level be­hind those three guys could force the Hall of Fame pow­ers that be to con­sider maybe there are other cri­te­ria: How many semi­fi­nals did he make? What was his rank­ing? How many match wins did he have over the course of his ca­reer ...?”

Mov­ing with the times seems to be high on Martin’s list of pri­or­i­ties as the ITHOF seeks to boost its pro­file. A $15.7 mil­lion in­vest­ment re­cently gave the grass­court sea­so­nend­ing Hall of Fame Tennis Cham­pi­onship in Newport a facelift and Martin is keen to main­tain the mo­men­tum.

“I am very pleased with the progress. I think that we have taken some pretty bold steps to make sure that the Hall of Fame be­comes as global as its name says it to be. There is still a lot of work that needs to hap­pen, but we have got­ten the ball rolling and we are keep­ing the ball mov­ing,” he said.

The tennis world as a whole has been busy mod­ern­iz­ing, with the re­brand­ing of the Davis Cup per­haps its most rad­i­cal break with tra­di­tion of late.

Driven by a $3 bil­lion in­vest­ment by Kos­mos Group, the 118-year-old in­ter­na­tional team competition is be­ing re­named the World Cup of Tennis and be­ing trans­formed into a one-week, one-lo­ca­tion sea­son-end­ing event with big­ger prize money.

Martin reck­ons the over­haul is a pos­i­tive step.

“I don’t think it’s per­fect but I think it’s nec­es­sary,” said the 48-year-old.

“It has to be looked upon as an op­por­tu­nity as op­posed to some­thing we dread. We have dreaded change way too much over the years.

“This is some­thing that is bold. It could be too rad­i­cal. If it’s too rad­i­cal, there is go­ing to be an­other change. Not a change back, but just a change to some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

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