LI NA, FRENCH OPEN WINNER, AND TENNIS IN CHINA

TENNIS IN CHINA

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Li Na at 2011
French Open Award Ceremony
Beijing began hosting the China Open women’s tennis tournament in the summer of 2004. Some Chinese have called for the first grand slam tennis tournament of the year to be held in China rather than Australia.

In October China hosts the Shanghai Masters tennis tournament. In the final of the Shanghai Masters in October 2010, Andy Murray whipped Roger Federer 6-3, 6-2. Roger Federer has a big following in China.

Chinese-American Michael Chang is the youngest person to win a grand slam singles title. He won the French Open at the age of 17, in 1989, around the same time as Tiananmen Square. A well known figure and role model in Asia, he is a born-again Christian who speaks Chinese about half the time with his mother. He was famous for his determination, his tirelessness, and his willingness to chase after any ball. He made some quaterfinal and semifinal but never won another Grand Slam after the French Open victory. he retired in September 2003 after playing one last in the U.S. Open. In 2008, he was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Chinese Tennis Players

Li Na is one of the world’s top ranked players. She won the 2011 French Open, was a finalist in the 2011 Australian Open and has won several tournaments. See Below.

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Li Ting and Sun Tian
Peng Shuai is another highly-ranked female Chinese tennis player. She reached the final of the 2011 Brussels Open, where played the No.1 player at the time, Caroline Wozniacki, but lost, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. Peng beat No.3 ranked vera Zvonarevea in the semifinals 6-3, 6-3.

Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian won the gold medal in women’s doubles tennis at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. They ousted Venus Williams and Chandra Rubin in the first round and beat Conchita Matinez and Virginia Ruano of Spain in the finals.

In June 2004, Zheng Jie became the first Chinese player to make it the forth round of Grand Slam. She made it that far in both the French Open and Wimbledon. Her main goal is to do well at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In August 2009, Zheng upset No. 1Dinara safina -5, 4-6, 6-4 at the Los Angeles Women’s Championship.

In January 2006, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi became the first Chinese to win Grand Slam event, They won the doubles title at the Australian Open. The pair were down 3-1 in the second set and staved off two match points to win in three sets in a 2-hour-5-minutes match.

Chinese women’s tennis players Li Na and Zheng Jie made it to the semifinals in the Australian Open in January 2010. Li rallied from a set down and a break down to beat Venus Williams in the quarterfinals only to lose valiantly to Serena Williams---7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1) “in the semifinals. Zheng got hammered by Justine Henin 6-1, 6-0 in her semifinal match.

Tennis at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, many key matches were plagued by rain. Some were delayed so many times the press conferences after the matches were held at 2:00am.

Li Na, a native of Wuhan and the world’s 42nd ranked player, defeated Venus Williams 7-5, 7-5 in a rain-delayed quarterfinal. A crowd dressed in ponchos persevered through the match. Li Na lost to Russian Dinara Safina 7-6, 7-5 in the semifinal.

Yan Zi and Zheng Jie won the bronze medal in women’s doubles. They lost in the women’s doubles semifinals to Anabe Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain, 6-4, 7-5

Li Na

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Li Na in 2008
Li Na is the first Chinese tennis player to be ranked in the top 10, the first Chinese to win a tour-level title, the first Asian to make it to a Grand Slam singles final and the first Asian to make it to a Grand Slam singles final and win. After making it to her first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in 2011 Li said, “I’m happy I can be the first Chinese player to come to a final? I always wanted to be the first one!” She then joked about how she managed to accomplish the feat even though her coach-husband Shan Jiang kept her up the night before with his snoring. Asked about what motivated her, she deadpanned, “prize money.”

Li Na made it the finals of the Australian Open in 2011. In the semifinals she beat world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, saving match point before coming back to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. Wozniacki had match point at 5-4, 40-30 in the second set before Li rallied. Li beat Andrea Petkovic in impressive fashion, 6-2, 6-4, in the quarterfinals. Up to that point the 28-year-old player had not conceded a set.

AP reported: “Li looked down and out after the first set, when she made 17 unforced errors and struggled for consistency. She finished with 51 unforced errors, but that was a reflection of her pushing Wozniacki to the extremes. Wozniacki could have ended the match in 1 hour, 29 minutes, but Li hit a forehand down the line, forcing an error and saving match point. It sparked a revival. She broke in that game to make it 5-5, held at love and then broke her Danish rival's serve again---after Wozniacki three times had game points to force a tiebreaker “to make it level at one set apiece. They traded breaks twice in the third set before Li held her nerve to finish it off when Wozniacki miscued a forehand. “

Li lost in two tie break sets to Serena Williams in the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2010

Li Na’s Early Career

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Li Na at 2009 U.S. Open
In July 2006, Li Na was the first Chinese to make it a Grand Slam quarterfinal, at Wimbledon. The 24-year-old former badminton player beat former U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round and 10th seeded Nicole Vaidisova in the forth round. Two other Chinese women made it to the third round. Chinese women players earn more money for the national sports federation than men Li Na defeated Mary Pierce 4-6, 6-0, 6-0 to make it the forth round of the U.S. Open in 2006 and then lost to Maria Sharapova. At that juncture Li was ranked 22nd in the world.

Li Na is said to have the talent to be a top 10 player in the world. In January 2008, Li Na made it the final of the Australian women’s hardcourt championship, the warm up event for the Australian Open. Li Na was the top-seeded player at the Aegon Classic tournament in Birmingham, England. There she beat Sharapova in the finals to take the title in the grass court event , which is a warm for Wimbledon.

On Li, Serena said, “She’s a real, real amazing fighter...Every time I had match points she came up with some big serves and great shots. She just goes for broke.” After the semifinals Li said, “I’m a little depressed about losing...but I believe today is a very good day...It not just a good thing for both of us, but also for the development of tennis in China. I think if kids saw our play this time, it might bring them more confidence. They might think one day they can also do it.”

Li Na in the Finals at the Australian Open

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quarterfinal victory at
2011 Australian Open
In the finals at the Australian Open, Li lost to Kim Clijsters, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 after taking the first set. AP reported: “It was the first night match for Li at Rod Laver Arena, where the cooler temperatures after the sun sets usually makes the hard court slower....Li and Clijsters weren't into any mind games before the match, seen outside the dressing room doors joking and smiling with each other. Li seemed uncharacteristically nervous in her pre-match TV interview, though, and that translated on to the court...Clijsters led 4-2 in head-to-head matches before the match, but Li beat Clijsters in the Sydney International final two weeks earlier after the Belgian player had led 5-0 in the opening set.” [Source: AP]

“Clijsters opened the match with an ace, winning the first game on four straight points, then breaking Li the same way for a 2-0 lead after just a few minutes. But Li found her range and seemed to lose her nervousness in the third game, breaking Clijsters and then holding for 2-2. The turnaround continued when Li saved two big break points, then broke Clijsters in the final game of the set. She set up two set points with a stinging forehand that Clijsters didn't bother to run for, then two points later stunned Clijsters with a crosscourt forehand to close out the first set in 38 minutes. [Ibid]

“There were four straight service breaks to open the second set before Li held to lead 3-2. Then Clijsters held for the first time in four games to level the set at 3-3. Clijsters, with a backhand winner to the open court, broke Li in the next game to lead 4-3. After that service break, Li went up to chair umpire... She appeared to become upset with some of the Chinese spectators in the crowd in the third set, and asked the chair umpire to intervene. She later complained about the flashes from photographers at center court.” Li asked chair umpire Alison Lang of Britain: "Can you tell the Chinese don't teach me how to play tennis." That was in reference to some people in the crowd yelling words in Chinese to Li that seemed to be bothering her. [Ibid]

Clijsters, who lost her service in four straight games from the end the first set, staged a remarkable turnaround, holding serve to open the deciding set and breaking Li's service to take a 2-0 lead, just as she had in the opening set. The Belgian player went up 3-1 when Li again lost her service for the seventh time in the match, then held in the next to go up 4-1. Serving for the match at 5-3, Clijsters finished as she started it, taking four points in a row and winning the title when Li's last forehand landed wide. As she walked back to her chair, Clijsters wiped tears from her eyes, then buried her head in a towel. Li also had tears in her eyes on the other side of the court. [Ibid]

AFP reported: “The funny and charming Li equally won hearts on her way to the runner-up spot... The final received blanket media coverage in China, despite tennis’s relatively low profile, prompting Li to dream of a Russian-style boom in the world’s most populous nation.” “I hope after three to five years maybe China will be like Russia and have many players coming through,” Li said she said. Russia had 18 women in the singles draw at Melbourne, while China had just three: Li, Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai.”

“China’s tennis chief hailed Li as a “pioneer” and drew comparisons with basketball superstar Yao Ming and idolized hurdler Liu Xiang, as the Wuhan native’s face adorned major Chinese newspapers and websites. In a further boost, Peng also reached the fourth round, the second year in a row that two Chinese players had made the last 16.”

Li Na Wins the French Open

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In June 2011, Li na won the French Open, making her the first player from an Asian nation to win a Grand Slam singles title. Julien Pretot of Reuters wrote: “Li Na pinned China on the grand slam map when a confident display of power and accuracy at the French Open...Li, the sixth seed, beat last year's champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4 7-6 in the final. Even her sponsor had not been not ultra-confident that Li, who confessed earlier in the tournament that she disliked clay, could win in Paris.” "(My sponsor) made a T-shirt with Chinese characters meaning 'Be Yourself'. They asked me: 'Are you okay to wear it?' I said: 'Yes of course'," Li told a news conference. "But they only made 30 of them. I think they should make more now because a lot of fans are asking where they can find them." [Source: Julien Pretot, Reuters , June 4,2011]

“True to herself, Li dominated a one-sided final as Schiavone was thrown off balance. "I did not have the feeling I could lose the match," Li said. Her flat baseline strokes and accurate serve allowed her to dictate the points, with Schiavone scurrying around the red dirt arena on a sunkissed Court Philippe Chatrier. Schiavone struggled to hit her stride but grew in confidence in the second set as Li wobbled, having moved a break ahead. However, the Italian's fingers were ripped from the trophy in emphatic style as Li raced through the tiebreak without dropping a point. "I was up 4-2 and she tried to come back and I thought: 'Okay you've got to stand up', and I made it," Li, who fell backwards to the clay and put her hands to her face in celebration, said at courtside. "I was nervous but I did not want to show it, I was cheating a little bit." [Ibid]

“Schiavone said afterwards, "It's really tough, but I have to say congratulations to Li Na because she improved this year and she played really well today.” Right from the start Schiavone knew she was in for a scrap as Li, showing great composure, threatened to break in the opening game on a hot day. Li leveled at 1-1 with more ease but both players started within themselves as the importance of the occasion sank in. A netted volley and smart play from Li put Schiavone under pressure on her own serve in the fifth game and a wide forehand sparked the first break as the Australian Open runner-up went 3-2 ahead. Li showed remarkable tenacity by breaking immediately at the start of the second set with more lusty blows and then saving a break point against her in the following game. Schiavone tried desperately to get a foothold, fending off numerous break points. [Ibid]

“The wasted opportunities looked like proving costly for Li as she suddenly looked rattled and blazed a forehand wide to allow a pumped-up Schiavone to haul herself back to 4-4, much to the delight of her vocal fans. With Li serving at 5-6 and the crowd eagerly anticipating a deciding set, Schiavone lost her cool when she ranted over a line call, pointing angrily at a mark in the clay.Had that decision gone her way she would have earned a set point. Instead Li remained calm, held serve to set up a tiebreaker and with clearly no appetite for tea-time drama, reeled off seven consecutive points. [Ibid]

“Many millions stayed up late into the night in China to watch their 'Golden Flower' bloom into glory Saturday, and Li's win was hailed as a miracle. "It's a miracle, a breakthrough, a first in more than 100 years of tennis," a breathless presenter on state television's main sports channel exclaimed as Li hit the winning shot. "I believe tennis in China will grow bigger and bigger," Li said. Fifteen million television viewers, with a peak at 25 million, watched Li qualify for the final as she deflated hard hitter Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals.” Noting that Chinese children probably saw her semifinal on TV, Li said that perhaps "they think that maybe one day, they can do the same -- or even better." [Ibid]

Li Na Beats Sharapova in French Open Semifinal

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Li Na easily beat a shacky Maria Sharapova in straights sets the French Open semifinal. AP reported: “As Maria Sharapova prepared to serve while only a point from defeat in the French Open semifinals, Li Na was thinking what any opponent would at that precise moment. "I was, like, 'Please, double-fault. That way I can win the match,"' Li explained to the crowd a few moments later. Sharapova obliged. Her second serve hit the white tape atop the net and bounced back for Sharapova's 10th double-fault of an error-filled afternoon, closing Li's 6-4, 7-5 victory Thursday. The result ended Sharapova's bid to complete a career Grand Slam, and allowed Li to reach a second consecutive major final. [Source: Associated Press, June 2, 2011]

“Much more confident on hard courts, Li prefers to stay at the baseline, hitting flat shots in near silence. Only as the end neared against Sharapova did Li occasionally pump a fist. Driving her big forehand near lines, Li finished with 24 winners, double Sharapova's count.” It was a performance that prompted Li's coach since April, Michael Mortensen, to describe her Thursday as "kind of Roger Federer of the women; she can do so many things." [Ibid]

“Perhaps due to swirling wind, what began as a high-quality contest between two big hitters devolved for a bit into a competition to determine who would serve less poorly. In one stretch, there were five consecutive breaks of serve. In one game, Sharapova double-faulted three times. In two others, including when ceding a 4-3 lead in the second set and again in the last game of the match, she double-faulted twice. She would roll her eyes or slap her thigh after various miscues, but couldn't get things straightened out. After flubbing the second serve on match point, Sharapova hung her head.” "At times, I didn't serve well, and was rushing more than maybe I had to," Sharapova said, "and maybe -- considering the conditions -- maybe I was just trying to go for too big of second serves, especially." [Ibid]

Li Na After the French Open in 2011

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Li Na After French Open win
In August 2011, Li Na was listed as No. 8 on the Forbes list of the world’s top-earning female athletes, with $8 million in earnings. Russia’s Maria Sharapova was No.1 with $25 million. Seven of the top nine athletes on the list were tennis players. Li is expected to move up the list as the endorsements following her 2011 French Open victory start to flow in.

Two months after the victory she signed endorsement contracts worth at least $42 million’seven three-year deals worth $2 million and $3.5 million according to her agent---moving her up to second behind Sharapova. She signed with Coral-gables-based IMG Tennis in 2009. Her agent Max Eisenbud said she could probably do five more endorsements but is too busy laying tennis to finalize them. [Source: Bloomberg, August 2011]

Li Na was 29 in 2011.

Li Na was ousted in the first round of the U.S. Open in August 2011, after losing to unseeded Romnaian Simona 6-2, 7-5.

Li Na Wants to Win More Majors Before She Retires

In January 2012, Reuters reported that Li has revealed her desperation to win another major championship before time is called on her career. Li, who was 29 years old and ranked 5th in the world at the time, said she could hear the clock ticking on her career and wanted to be perfectly prepared for the Australian Open at Melbourne Park from January 16. [Source: Will Swanton, Reuters, January 3, 2012]

"I am not young any more and I do not have time to waste," Li told reporters. "I have to focus every second of every tournament I play to make the most of the time I have left. That is why I stayed in Munich for so long... to get my body healthy and strong," she added.

To prepare for the Australian Open Li trained in Germany. "In Munich, I had four weeks of no interviews, no photos shoots, only tennis training. "It was tough, six hours of training a day, two or three hours on the court but mostly it was for fitness because I want to be healthy for a whole season. I have had knee and back injuries and I don't want that again."

Li denied she had any immediate retirement plans."At the moment my body feels fit so I can't think about how many years until I retire," she added. "One day I might wake up and say 'I'm tired, I don't want to do this any more.' Then I will stop. But now I can think I can play as well as the first half of 2011. Maybe in 2012, I play even better."

Part of her training consisted of playing against male player Fernando Verdasco of Spain. "It is really hard to return a man's serve," Li said. "I mean, really hard. Today I couldn't pick up one ball. I was like, 'what am I even doing here? He (Verdasco) hit aces just about every time. I asked Wu Di 'what am I supposed to be doing? How do I play this?' It's just totally different, but good practice for the women players."

Li Na Goes Loses in 2012 Australian Open Quarterfinals to Kim Clijsters

In January 2012, AP reported: “Down four match points and hobbling on her injured left ankle, defending champion Kim Clijsters somehow rallied for a dramatic 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over Li Na at the Australian Open. Clijsters was in pain from the ankle she twisted in the seventh game. Li was just a bundle of nerves. The French Open champion failed to serve out the fourth-round match at 5-4 in the second set, but then led 6-2 in the tiebreaker. Again Clijsters refused to yield. "I said in my mind, keep fighting," Clijsters said. "You never know what happens on the other side of the court." [Source: AP January 22, 2012]

Li's best chance to win -- and gain revenge for her three-set loss to Clijsters in last year's final -- came on her fourth match point. Clijsters played a poor drop shot, giving her opponent the chance to put the ball into the open court. Instead, Li tentatively hit the ball almost straight back to Clijsters, who sent up a perfect lob that dropped just inside the baseline. "Of course I was nervous," Li said. "If you're nervous, you could not think too much, right?"

Clijsters won six straight points to take the tiebreaker and the first four games of the deciding set. "I'm not saying that that forehand drop shot was a good choice, but you make decisions. Luckily, that one turned out OK," Clijsters said. "I think she was a little bit lost or maybe a little bit confused at that time." Clijsters then overcame a wobble of her own, losing her serve at 5-2 in the third set, before finally closing out the fourth-round match on her second match point.

Li broke down in tears at the end of her post-match news conference. "Maybe 6-2 up in the tiebreak I was a little bit shocking," she said. Clijsters was hurt in the first set while serving at 3-all and 30-all. As she hit a forehand, her left foot got stuck on the surface and the ankle twisted awkwardly.

She got up to finish the point but then immediately called for the trainer and had the injury strapped.Clijsters' movement was clearly slowed when she resumed but, playing in her last Australian Open before quitting tennis at the end of the season, she said she didn't want to bow out in Melbourne with a retirement. "I knew if I could just try to let the medication sink in or if I could get through the first 20 minutes, half hour, I think the pain would go away a little bit and then maybe with the adrenaline I could just fly through it," she said. The injury seemed to affect Li just as much. The 29-year-old looked increasingly stressed as the match progressed.

Li Na Factor Boosts Australian Tourism

The China Daily reported: “Grand Slam champion Li Na has boosted Chinese tourism in Australia and could help double the number of visitors in the next five years, a report said. The "Li Factor" was behind a 30 percent rise in Australian Open ticket sales in China after the Wuhan native reached last year's final and went on to win the French Open, the Herald Sun said. [Source: AFP, China Daily, January 18, 2012]

"About 53 million Chinese left their country on a holiday last year," Tourism and Transport Forum boss John Lee told the newspaper. "Of those, 500,000 came to Australia. That number could double in five years, helped by the Li Factor." The 29-year-old Li became Asia's first Grand Slam finalist in Melbourne last year, when she lost to Belgian Kim Clijsters, and won over many fans with her jokes and charisma.

Li's French Open win catapulted her to super stardom in China, where her popularity is rated alongside that of basketball's Yao Ming. Lee said he hoped she would win in Melbourne "for the free publicity it would give Australia". "The Chinese fans are not only visiting Melbourne and its surrounds," he said. "They will visit Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. "She's made a successful start to 2012, and if that continues Li could be more valuable to Australian tourism than Oprah."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2012


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