Taking the tennis world by storm

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Li Na of China celebrates after winning her women's singles final match against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia at 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 25, 2014.

Forget Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova — Li Na is regarded as the hottest property in tennis, not just because of her ability, but because she has opened the door to the sport's future.

In becoming Asia's first Grand Slam champion at the 2011 French Open, the wise-cracking Chinese star brought tennis to a huge potential new audience including 1.3 billion of her compatriots and a region encompassing two-thirds of humanity.

Women's Tennis Association chief Stacey Allaster has put Li, 31, front and center of a concerted push into Asia including multiple new tournaments in China and the end-of-season championships in Singapore.

In September, Li's home city of Wuhan will host a new tournament, one of six WTA events in China this year.

So when Li won her second grand slam title, against Dominika Cibulkova yesterday, it's fair to say the result was cheered at the highest level.

Li was the cover girl for last year's Time magazine issue rating the world's 100 most influential people, and she is listed by Forbes as the globe's second highest-earning female athlete behind Sharapova.

After a fallow period following the 2011 French Open victory, when the distractions of sponsors and media drove her off her game, she has been reborn since teaming with coach Carlos Rodriguez in 2012.

And now in Melbourne, she has become the first Asian winner of the tournament tagged "the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific," after losing in the final in both 2011 and 2013.

"I finally got here," she said.

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