Chinese star claims her first tennis Grand Slam title, and Asia's too
It's love at first sight for Li Na and the trophy she earned on Saturday. She beat Francesca Schiavone of Italy in the women's final of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris . [Photo/Agencies]
BEIJING - When Fran-cesca Schiavone of Italy kissed the women's singles trophy at Roland Garros last year, becoming the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam title, Li Na, who was beaten by Schiavone in the fourth-round, said: "If she can do that, maybe I can do that too."
So when Li took on Schiavone once again in the final at the French Open on Saturday, she simply would not let her golden opportunity slip away.
And she did it in the best possible way.
Watched by tens of millions of fans on TV back in China, Li hammered the defending champion 6-4, 7-6 (0), bringing China and also Asia its first Grand Slam title.
After Schiavone sent a backhand long, Li screamed with delight and fell to the ground. Then she picked herself up, skipped towards the net, gave her opponent a big hug and then basked in the passionate applause of the spectators at Court Philippe Chatrier.
"I was so happy when she hit the last ball out that I almost cried. I tried to control myself not to cry," Li said. "I have played professional tennis for 12 years and I am so happy that my efforts have paid off."
Sharpened by her pervious Grand Slam final experience - at the Australian Open where she lost to Belgian Kim Clijsters - Li displayed a kind of all-conquering maturity that helped her to catch up with Schiavone at 6-6 in the second set and force a tiebreak, which she went on to win 7-0.
"I was nervous but I didn't want to show my opponent. So I was cheating (faking) a little bit," Li said.
The 29-year-old Wuhan native paid special gratitude to her husband, Jiang Shan, who served as her coach before Denmark's Michael Mortensen joined her team in May.
"Although he (Jiang) is not my coach any more, I want to give many thanks to him. He always understands me and tolerates me ... Thanks for accompanying me all the time."
With the victory, Li will reach No 4 in the world, equaling the previous Asian record set by Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm in the early 1990s.
Her triumph is expected to provide a major push to a sport already rising fast in China.
"Everyone in China should be very excited," she said. "I hope after the young people in China looked at my match today that they will want to do even better than me in the future."
Friends gather at a home in Beijing to watch Li Na play and ultimately celebrate her win. [Photo/China Daily]
The result was exactly what Stacey Allaster, chairman and CEO of the WTA, has been expecting for some time now.
"I congratulate Li Na on this historic victory, which is a credit to her incredible skill, determination and perseverance in winning China's first Grand Slam. Her win today will inspire an entire generation of young girls to play tennis and propel the sport to new levels of global popularity and growth," said Allaster.