Saturday, June 4, 2011

China Rising: Li Na Wins French Open (Roland Garros) 2011 and Makes Tennis History

Paris - She brought her cool grittiness and colorful personality, with her power baseline game and obvious fitness. She showcased a scintillating serve, with deep penetrating groundstrokes from both forehand and backhand wings, which constantly drove her opponent back and off-balance.

She crushed 31 winners, and even threw in some unexpectedly spectacular volleys and lobs. And all this before a global tennis audience, including millions of households in her home country of 1.3 billion people where she is hugely popular.

Li Na (No. 6 Seed, Age 29) dubbed "China's No. 1 Sister" defeated current champion Italian Francesca Schiavone (No. 5 Seed, Age 30) in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (0) at Court Philippe Chatrier. She made history by becoming the first tennis player from China (Chinese National) to win a Grand Slam championship title. Her victory lifted her ranking to No. 4 in the world.

It was a boost for both women's tennis, and for tennis in China - a nation which will probably be critical for future tennis growth.

"Today is a dream come true," exclaimed Li. Referring to her recent loss at the Australian Open final in January to Kim Clijsters, she explained: "I had no experience. I was very nervous. For my second time in a final, I had the experience. I knew how to do it. And I had more self-confidence."

China's pride was obvious. "Amazing," Li said. "I got a text message from my friend. They said they were crying in China because they saw the national flag."

Tennis is considered an elite sport in China. While the numbers of players are growing quickly, it still lags far behind basketball, soccer and other sports. But the hope is that Li's victory will help change things.

"I hope that lots of kids see my performance and in their hearts feel that one day they can do even better than me," she said.

Michael Chang, Chinese-American star who won this same tournament in 1989 as a 17 year-old, said: "[T]his could be the start of something very special for tennis in China . . . Li will definitely change the sport of tennis in China and that is a great thing."

Added WTA (Women's Tennis Association) President David Shoemaker: "There's going to be a good, steady stream of talented young players coming out of this region . . . I think it's really inspiring."

China now sports its first player in the Top 5, two players in the Top 20, and four in the Top 100.

Well done Li Na! Well done China!

Video: Li Na wins!

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