Tennis: Schedule full, so Li Na skips new International Premier Tennis League

HONG KONG (AFP) - Australian Open champion Li Na on Monday defended her decision to skip the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), as she targets more Grand Slams and the world No. 1 spot.

The inaugural edition of the IPTL takes place later this year with matches in Bangkok, Mumbai, Singapore and Dubai, geared to raise the profile of the game across Asia and the Middle East.

But the event, modelled on cricket's financially successful Indian Premier League, has been dealt a blow by the absence of Asia's top male and female players - Japan's Kei Nishikori and second-ranked Li.

The current hottest property in women's tennis appears to have no room in her tightly-packed calendar for the IPTL, saying: "I've already put my schedule (together) at the end of last year. When I was doing it I didn't see any (IPTL) tournament... so that's why I didn't do (schedule) it."

The Chinese star became Asia's first Grand Slam winner at the 2011 French Open and followed it up with a second major title at Melbourne in January, propelling her to a career-high rankings position of world No. 2.

Women's Tennis Association (WTA) chief Stacey Allaster has placed the 32-year-old at the head 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, premier-level competition, one of six WTA events on Chinese soil this year.

The much talked about league will take place during the off season in the tennis calendar, between Nov 27 and Dec 14, and will feature 24 matches across the four host cities.

It falls at a time when most tour players opt to get some rest and will come just weeks before Li would be due to defend her Australian Open title in January.

The team event will take place shortly after October's season-ending WTA Championships in Singapore, which, barring any mishap, Li will contest as one of the world's top eight players.

Li told reporters in the southern Chinese city that her focus was on adding to her two Slams and replacing Serena Williams at the top of the rankings.

"I want to be No. 1 in the world," she said. "It's a goal, the dream for all athletes. I will try as hard as I can. There's no timing (put on it)."

Russia's Maria Sharapova and Swiss great Roger Federer are also missing the IPTL.

Each match will follow a best-of-five format comprised of separate sets contested in men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, mixed doubles and past champions singles.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.