French Open Summary: Li Na Puts China on Grand Slam Map

Richard SmithContributor IIIJune 6, 2011

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 04:  Women's singles champion Na Li of China poses with the trophy by the banks of the River Seine on day fourteen of the French Open on June 4, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Little did Francesco Schiavone know that her victory in the ladies' singles final at the 2010 French Open Championship at Roland Garros would provide the motivation for her opponent in this year’s final.

Last year, Schiavone knocked out the Li Na in the third round. But Li knew that she had played badly in that match and had always felt that one day she would beat the Italian, particularly on clay. After Schiavone had lifted the trophy, Li made the comment that “If she could win; then so could I,” which proved emphatically this year in Saturday’s final in Paris.

In winning the French Open, Li became the first person from China or Asia to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament. The win is the highlight of a 12-year long professional career and came in her second Grand Slam final, the first being earlier this year at the Australian Open. Her victory also helped her climb to No. 4 in the WTA world rankings.

Li took the first set of the final 6-4, but she had to fight back from a long way in the second to take the set into a tie-break at 6-6. Her comeback clearly shook Schiavone, who was unable to raise her game from that moment on. and Li went on to win every point to claim the title in straight sets. The Italian’s final backhand went out, and provided one of the great moments in this year’s tournament. Li screamed loudly in delight before going to the ground, in a moment of victorious isolation, trying to take in what she had actually achieved for both herself and her nation.

The ladies' tournament itself provided several surprises, with the top four seeds all going out in the earlier rounds. Li herself was responsible for dumping out the No. 4 seed, Victoria Azarenka in straight sets in the quarterfinals, which she followed up by knocking out the No. 7 seed, Maria Sharapova, also in straight sets in the semifinals. Li's best win of the fortnight however was against the inform No.9 seed, Petra Kvitova, in the last 16, a match she won in three sets. In fact, Li only dropped two sets throughout the entire tournament, the other coming in a tie-break in the first round against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Having reached both Grand Slam finals so far this year, Li will head into Wimbledon at the end of this month as one of the favourites to win, and at her current form, there is nothing to suggest she couldn't achieve a second consecutive Grand Slam victory. She is a very good grass court player and has reached the quarterfinals twice in the past, first in 2006 and most recently last year where she lost to four-time winner, Serena Williams.

Li has become one of the crowd pleasers in world tennis, and her win will undoubtedly provide the stimulus for many players from China and Asian countries generally to become involved in the sport.