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After Li Na's retirement, Asian tennis looks to Kei Nishikori

As two-time grandslam champion Li Na retires, Kei Nishikori is ready to fill the gap in Asian tennis.

(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

Li Na, Asia’s biggest tennis star and the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam, announced in a statement on Friday that she is retiring from the sport. She cites injuries as her reason for retirement, unable to heal her knee injury with multiple surgeries. Li Na won the Australian Open earlier this year to add to her French Open title from 2011. Her success and personality made her one of China’s most marketable sports stars, and she remains one of the biggest public figures in Asia.

Na’s success led to a boom in tennis, particularly in Asia. A decade ago, there were only two WTA events in Asia; this year, that number grew to 10. This is also the first year that the year-end WTA Finals will be played in Asia, beginning a five-year stint in Singapore. The increase in the number of tournaments in Asia is due in large part to her trailblazing success.

She also opened doors for other Asian tennis players, most notably Kei Nishikori, who made an improbable run to the U.S. Open finals, before falling short to Marin Cilic.

Kei Nishikori (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Kei Nishikori (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

On the heels of his U.S. Open run, Nishikori signed deals with both Jaguar, as a brand ambassador, and Cup Noodle. Nishikori, the first man from Japan to be ranked in the ATP’s top 10, has existing contracts that include escalator clauses providing extra money for certain accomplishments, such as reaching a Grand Slam final. His agent comments about his presence in Japan, saying “He’s a hero there. He’s been a hero there for a while. Ever since he hit the top 20, it’s been crazy. But we’re getting to another level now.”

Nishikori has been on the forefront of promoting the ATP Asian Swing, which gets underway Monday with the inaugural Shenzhen Open and the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur. It continues with a pair of 500 events, the China Open in Beijing and Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo, before culminating with the Shanghai Rolex Masters. He has been busy promoting the tournaments with appearances, clinics and lots of interviews. As the highest ranked Asian tennis player on both the men’s and women’s side, Nishikori will have to battle the increased pressure to maintain his top 10 ranking.

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