Victoria Azarenka of Belarus will bid to follow China’s Li Na as the latest Grand Slam champion to have benefited from the support of the Grand Slam® Development Fund. Azarenka will take on Russian Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open women’s singles final in Melbourne on Saturday.
Azarenka, 22, was a member of two ITF/Grand Slam Junior Touring Teams in 2004, to Europe and North America, reaching the semifinals at the Wimbledon and US Open junior championships. She went on to capture her first junior Grand Slam title at the 2005 Australian Open, and also won the 2005 US Open junior championship to end the year as ITF Junior Girls World Champion.
In 2011, Li defeated Francesca Schiavone in the Roland Garros final to become China’s first Grand Slam champion, having first travelled to Europe as a 16-year-old in 1998 as a member of an ITF/Grand Slam Junior Touring Team.
The Grand Slam® Development Fund was originally established in 1986 to encourage and increase competitive opportunities in developing tennis regions. With annual contributions from the four Grand Slam nations, the Fund has become an effective means for the International Tennis Federation to fulfil its mandate to develop competitive tennis worldwide through its affiliated National Tennis Associations. The total funding since its launch in 1986 is over $75 million.
The Fund is designed to encourage the establishment of both junior and professional circuits, and to assist players directly, through touring teams or travel grants, to gain international competitive experience. This has helped increase the number of nations represented in mainstream international competition.
A total of 32 players competing in the men’s and women’s singles events at the 2012 Australian Open have received Grand Slam Development Fund assistance, including Li and Juan Martin del Potro (ARG). Other players to have been supported by the Fund include three-time Roland Garros champion Gustavo Kuerten (BRA), Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) and four-time ITF World Champion Cara Black (ZIM).