AUSTRALIAN OPEN SCENE: Nishikori hails Li Na’s leadership

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori of Japan paid tribute to Li Na, describing her as an inspiration for Asian tennis.

Nishikori, who is touted as one of the men’s stars of the future, said he was ”very sad” about the two-time Grand Slam winner’s retirement last year due to knee problems. Li was the first player from Asia to win a major.

”She was big, big leadership for especially Asian tennis,” said Nishikori, who reached the U.S. Open final and a career-high No. 5 ranking last year, making him the highest-ranked Asian man in tour history.

”I think I’m getting close to – not really – but getting close to her,” Nishikori said after winning his first-round match Tuesday at the Australian Open. ”Hopefully I can come back to a Grand Slam final again.”

Earlier in the day, Li had complimented the 25-year-old Nishikori.

”I think he’s an amazing player,” said Li, who won the Australian Open last year before retiring in September.

”It’s not easy to be on the top,” she said. ”I know how hard working he (is). So I believe he can win a Grand Slam. Seriously.”

By Jocelyn Gecker —

VENUS ON MOTHERHOOD: The news of Li Na’s pregnancy has some of the other players talking about motherhood.

”Maybe there will be twins and a doubles team,” joked Venus Williams, who has won 13 Grand Slams doubles titles with her younger sister, Serena.

The 34-year-old Williams said she wasn’t ready for children yet.

”I don’t know. I’m still a big kid. I’m still growing up,” Williams said in response to a question during her news conference after her first-round win in Australia.

”She definitely made the right decision, I think, starting a family,” Williams said. ”I hope that one day I can get to that level. We’ll see.”

”It’s such a big job. It’s like the biggest job in the world,” added Williams, who has won seven Grand Slam singles titles. ”As much responsibility as I’ve taken on in my life, that still seems daunting.”

By Jocelyn Gecker —

HAIR OF EXPECTANCY: Milos Raonic’s sculpted hair is a source of conversation around the tennis tours. It’s so famous, in fact, it even has its own spoof Twitter accounts – (at)milosraonichair and (at)Milos-Hair.

And his fellow Canadian, Eugenie Bouchard, has had enough.

Asked about his latest haircut following her first-round win at the Australian Open, Bouchard took aim at Raonic’s obsession with styling.

”I made fun of his hair last year. I don’t know how it’s different now. I just think he spends way too much time worrying about his hair.”

More than her?

”Clearly,” she deadpanned.

Raonic wasn’t being dragged into the debate after his win over Ukrainian qualifier Illya Marchenko on Tuesday.

Told what Bouchard said, he politely declined to comment.

”Next question, really. I’m not going to get into this,” he said with a smile.

By Justin Bergman —

COFFEE OR PIZZA? Serena Williams had one word of advice for Taylor Townsend before the 18-year-old American played at an Australian Open warm-up tournament in Hobart.

”Win,” Serena wrote in a text.

”I told her I’m about to go on court and she just put `win,’ that’s it,” Townsend said with a laugh.

Townsend didn’t win her Australian Open debut match against former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki on Tuesday, but she said the advice she’s received from Serena and her sister Venus has certainly made an impression in her first couple years on tour.

”It’s hard work to be out here. It’s very dog-eat-dog,” she said. ”And to have them in my corner, with them being such great champions, it’s a great asset for me to have.”

Serena recently resorted to an unusual tactic to win a match at the Hopman Cup in Perth – she ordered an espresso on court and it helped spark her come-from-behind win over Italian Flavia Pennetta.

”I didn’t know you could order an espresso while you’re playing. That’s not something I would do,” Townsend said.

”But she’s Serena Williams. If she wanted to get a pizza, she could get a pizza.”

By Justin Bergman —

Australian Open Scene follows tennis’ Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne as seen by journalists from The Associated Press. It will be updated throughout the day.