Li Na made tennis history at Wimbledon on Monday when she became the first Chinese player to reach a grand slam singles quarter-final, toppling Czech number 10 seed Nicole Vaidisova 4-6 6-1 6-3.
"I am proud of myself and I am very proud for my country as well," the 27th seed said after her shock victory gave tennis in Asia a major fillip.
Li, applauded by Chinese journalists as she went into her post-match news conference, said: "Women's tennis in China will be getting better and better."
Citing former French Open winner Michael Chang, an American of Chinese descent, as a great inspiration for her and all Asian tennis players, Li said she had her first glimpse of Wimbledon when watching the tournament on video.
Asked when China would celebrate its first grand slam victory, she said through an interpreter "It takes time gradually, step by step." Vaidisova, a semi-finalist last month at the French Open, went straight on the attack, breaking Li's serve in the first game, maintaining her advantage throughout and finishing off with an exquisite drop shot.
An exasperated Vaidisova lost her rhythm completely in the second set. Li's low, flat forehands paid rich dividends and she raced to a 5-0 lead. She finished off the set with a crisply delivered ace.
In a tense deciding set, Li, who beat fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the last round, broke the Czech teenager's service in the fifth game and held on for an historic victory.
Li, 24, started her sporting career aged five as a badminton player in her native Wuhan. After a year, a tennis coach persuaded her parents to allow her to switch to the ball game. Over the next 14 years, she moved through the sports system to the national squad but suddenly quit to go to university in 2002.
Persuaded by her boyfriend, she returned to the game in 2004 and within months had become the first Chinese player to win a singles title on the WTA tour with victory as a qualifier in the southern ciy of Guangzhou.
Her rise was spectacular. Last month, she became the first Chinese singles player to reach the top 30 in the world. At Wimbledon, she became the first Chinese singles seed in a grand slam.
While Chinese women have been a force in doubles for some time -- Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and Zheng Jie and Yan Zi claimed the Australian open title in January -- it is only recently that the singles players have come to the fore.
Li now looks favourite to lead the charge with Chinese tennis looking forward to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Asked how this breakthrough victory would play at home, she pointed at the Chinese journalists and said: "It depends on them."