With Yao Ming's Basketball Hall of Fame induction still fresh in the memory, his compatriot Li Na looks set to receive the equivalent honor after the International Tennis Hall of Fame made its promotional debut in China during the ongoing China Open tennis tournament in Beijing.
Li Na receives the Laureus Exceptional Achievement Award in Shanghai in 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]
Li, China's two-time Grand Slam champion, who retired in 2014, hasn't appeared during the ongoing Asian Swing on the WTA Tour as the 34-year-old and her husband Jiang Shan are expecting their second child after Li gave birth to daughter Alisa last June.
Despite her absence, the growing public enthusiasm for tennis in China, inspired by Li's 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open victories, has impressed the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Dianne Hayes, vice-president of International Affairs for the ITHF, said Li's achievements, both on and off the court, are deserving of a future place in the Hall of Fame.
"You would expect it (that Li will be nominated). She is such a global icon. Her results as a professional are remarkable. She's made such a difference in the world and she is obviously so well respected in this country and throughout the world for her accomplishments," said Hayes.
She continued: "Presently there are not any Chinese inductees, but we certainly anticipate that will change in the future. Hall of Famers are inducted five years after they retire from the sport."
Established in 1954, the ITHF is a non-profit institution that preserves and promotes the history of tennis and celebrates its champions.
Located in Newport, Rhode Island, US, the ITHF features an extensive museum that showcases the history of the sport and currently honors 247 Hall of Famers from 23 countries for both their sporting achievements and contribution to tennis' global growth.
With China emerging rapidly on tennis' global landscape, the ITHF decided to bring its educational programs to the country this year to coincide with the China Open. It hosted a coaching clinic on Sunday for 25 Chinese juniors, who practiced alongside Swiss legend Martina Hingis.
The ITHF will introduce a traveling exhibit next year that follows major tournaments in China which will be visited by local champions and Hall of Famers to raise awareness of the organization, according to Hayes.
"Today's programs were the first of more we intend to do here in China. We know that Chinese players and fans are very interested in growing tennis and have a great appreciation for history and we look forward to working with you all to preserve and promote the history of our sport in the future," she said.