Li's feat of clay is major milestone for Asia game

First Grand Slam title crowns China's emergence as a world tennis force

It began less than 10 years ago with an attempt to improve China's haul of Olympic medals and it has reached a peak with the country's first Grand Slam singles title.

The world's most populous nation had never made an impact in what was seen as a quintessentially western sport until the 2008 Games were awarded to Beijing, but a series of subsequent successes reached a new high here yesterday as Li Na won the French Open. The 29-year-old from Wuhan, who becomes the fifth oldest first-time Grand Slam singles champion in the Open era and the first from Asia, beat Francesca Schiavone, last year's champion, 6-4 7-6.

Less than six months ago Li suffered the disappointment of losing to Kim Clijsters in her first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open. Having taken the tough decision to replace her husband, Jiang Shan, as coach with the Dane, Michael Mortensen, Li then put her post-Melbourne slump behind her and started to enjoy sustained success on clay for the first time in her career.

She has done it the hard way here. On her way to the final Li beat Petra Kvitova, a coming force in the game, Victoria Azarenka, who was the favourite to win the title, and Maria Sharapova, who had been playing the best clay-court tennis of her career.

In Schiavone, Li faced an opponent who can master this surface better than any other woman. The 30-year-old Italian had recaptured her form of last year en route to the final but had no answer to the all-round excellence of Li's game. The Chinese may have lacked the subtlety of the Italian, but her tally of 31 winners – Schiavone made just 12 – told everything about her power and accuracy.

Schiavone won only five points against Li's serve in the first set and failed to disrupt her opponent's rhythm with her spins and variations of pace. Li broke in the first game of the second set and saved a break point with an ace to go 2-0 up, but Schiavone fought back. The Italian broke to level the set at 4-4, but was overwhelmed in the tie-break, losing it 7-0.

"Melbourne was the first time I'd reached a Grand Slam final," Li said afterwards. "Of course I didn't have any experience of this before. When you've been in one final already, you know what to do next time."

Li has been a part of her country's emergence as a tennis force from the start. She became the first Chinese to win a tour singles title in 2004, the year when Sun Tiantian and Li Ting won China's first Olympic gold medal in the sport in the women's doubles in Athens.

Her subsequent triumphs, however, have been largely down to her own efforts rather than those of the Chinesetennis authorities, who put major investment into the sport but wanted to do things their own way.

Li actually gave up the sport for two years after the national federation insisted that she should concentrate on doubles, in the belief that it was an easier route to Olympic success. When rules were relaxed, allowing Chinese players to operate outside the federation's regime and keep their own prize money, she was one of the first to take advantage.

"When I was youngI wanted to be a Grand Slam champion," Li said.

"Some people say I'm getting old now, but for the old woman a dream has come true. At 6-0 in the tie-break, I was thinking: 'OK, don't do anything stupid.' I've had many match points before and gone on to lose the match."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York