Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

It’s Li Na’s evening in Paris [Firstpost]

History making indeed – The significance of June 4th in China now has a new layer of meaning. With Li Na comes Asia and China’s first-ever (male or female) grand slam winner. Li Na rises from 7th to 4th place on the WTA rankings. And from Xinhua and China Daily… Li Na wins it all at Roland Garos (China Daily, June 4, 2011). From Singapore’s AsiaOne (reuters report) – China’s ‘Golden Flower ‘Li stuns fans back home (AsiaOne, June 5, 2011). The Age (AFP report) from Australia – Li Na first Chinese to win Grand Slam singles title (The Age, June 5, 2011)

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It’s Li Na’s evening in Paris
by Anupama Bagri
Source – Firstpost Sports, published June 4, 2011

Photo – Reuters. Li Na displayed brute power and brilliant footwork against Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final on Saturday.

June 4 is a red-letter day in China’s history. But post Saturday, it won’t be just about marking the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Much like the students’ movement which promised a revolutionary change in the established order, Li Na’s emergence as the first Asian — male or female — to ever win a Grand Slam singles title promises a tennis revolution in the nation.

Li, who had lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters this January, displayed brute power and brilliant footwork in her 6-4, 7-6 (0) upset win over defending champion Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final.

“Li played really well. I couldn’t push her today. It was a close match and she deserved to win. Enjoy this moment, its fantastic,” said a gracious Schiavone at the presentation ceremony. “It’s been a great tournament for me too. To kiss the clay everyday came from my heart,” added the world’s fifth ranked player.

Schiavone (30 years, 346 days) and Li (29 years, 98 days) have a combined age of 60 years and 79 days, making this the oldest women’s singles final at a major since Wimbledon in 1998 (when Novotna beat Tauziat).

On the eve of the big day, Li had spoken about how her nation was waiting in anticipation of its first Grand Slam champion and how excited she was that the final was going to be televised live in China. Reportedly, an astounding 50 million Chinese viewers were following her performance in Paris and the 29-year-old from the Yangzte river port of Wuhan sure made each one of them proud.

“I was excited.  And I was nervous but I did not want to show it, I was cheating a little bit,” said the ever-smiling Li as she struggled to string together a few words in English. A student of the Huazhong Institute of Science and Technology, Li pocketed a neat $1.7 million for her efforts and also avenged her third round loss to Schiavone here last year.

The final was expected to be an entertaining and narrow contest given the styles of both finalists. While Schiavone mixes her game and rhythm with a great blend of top spin and slice, Li is all about hard and flat hitting.

The fifth-seeded Italian’s game may be more suited to the slow red clay and Li, by her own admission, might not favour the surface too much, but the latter was definitely the more confident player on Saturday. Using her feet to great effect, the Chinese used her other strength – her forehand – to set up beautifully angled winners.

Schiavone, WTA’s most improved player last season, made a nervy start to the match facing a break point in the very first game before holding serve. It was Li Na who drew first blood, breaking the 30-year-old Italian’s serve in the fifth game after Schiavone sent a forehand wide. The set went on serve thereafter with Li taking the lead after 39 minutes.

The Chinese carried on the momentum into the second set breaking Schiavone in the opening game. The Italian seemed to be struggling to hold serve with Li having a couple of chances to break in the fifth and seventh games. The seventh-ranked Asian looked set for a comfortable victory when suddenly Schiavone showed why she was the defending champion.

The Italian, in her quest to become only the sixth woman to retain the French Open title since tennis became professional in 1968, broke Li for the first time to level the set at four-all. Schiavone looked like pushing the match into the decider as errors flew thick and fast off Li’s racquet. The Chinese, irritated with a section of the crowd behind her that was cheering for the Italian, looked out of sorts but thankfully for her it lasted only a while.

As the second set veered towards a tie-break, Li gained her rhythm moving the ball all over the court as Schiavone scurried around the arena. The Chinese was on a mission and she gave nothing away in the tie-break. Actually, make that in the match.

And was the victory dedicated to her “fat and ugly” husband, who snored throughout the Australian Open fortnight. “It’s my friend’s birthday today, so it’s a big gift for her,” said Li, flashing her wide smile.


Filed under: Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Domestic Growth, Firstpost, Influence, Media, Nationalism, People, Sport, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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