If you weren't sure if Singapore was excited to be hosting the WTA's season-ending championships for the next five years, cue up a tape of Monday night's opening ceremony at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. The enthusiasm was palpable.
Singapore kicked off the first WTA Finals to be held in Asia with an energetic drumline punctuated by fireworks and a laser light show to the deafening cheers of a near-capacity crowd. One of the great legacies of the three-year staging of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, were the sell-out crowds of vocal and energetic fans. Based on Monday night's crowd at Singapore Indoor Stadium, it's clear that the Garden City is well-equipped to carry on that tradition.
Recently retired Li Na was on hand to help open the tournament. Soon after she announced her retirement in September, Li was named an ambassador for the 2014 WTA Finals. Speaking to the Singapore crowd from centre court, Li confirmed that she would return to the city next year to reprise her ambassador role in hopes of inspiring and encouraging the continued growth of tennis in the Asia-Pacific region.
"It's a brand new experience to be a part of the WTA Finals and I’m very excited to be here and to hit the first serve," Li said.
Li joked before the tournament that she was busier in her retirement than when she was a player, but the former No.2 has embraced her role as a preeminent tennis ambassador in Asia. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the WTA's commitment to expanding in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes moving the WTA Finals to Singapore, was made possible by Li's success.
The two-time Grand Slam champion was given a hearty greeting as she strolled on court to hit the ceremonial first-serve to open the tournament. And she did it while wearing an elegant long black dress and platform heels, too!
"It was difficult to play tennis in heels - I prefer tennis shoes," Li joked. She also jokingly begged MC Andrew Krasny not to tell her former coach Carlos Rodriguez about the stunt.
The lucky receiver on the other side of the net was 16-year-old Karman Kour Thandi of India, who won the inaugural Under-16 Future Stars event earlier in the day. Thandi went undefeated during the Future Stars tournament, winning all seven of her matches. As a reward, Li gave the Thandi a moment to cherish. Not only was she on hand to present Thandi with the winner's trophy earlier in the day, Li also continued to rally with Thandi after the ceremonial first serve, which the youngster admitted was surreal.
As Li strolled off court she reassured the crowd she would be back soon. Then she quickly hopped into a car to the airport, en route to yet another stop on her post-retirement tour. Her on-court contributions will be missed, but Li continues to do her part to spread the word about the sport that she loves.