Shanghai noon: Li Na dethrones Schiavone | india | Hindustan Times
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Shanghai noon: Li Na dethrones Schiavone

india Updated: Jun 05, 2011 01:01 IST

Li Na made sporting history at the French Open on Saturday when she became the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.

The 29-year-old from Wuhan defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4, 7-6 (7/0)) to take her place in the pantheon of Chinese sports stars.

Li clinched the watershed win with a superb 7-0 tie-break performance in the second set, falling onto her back in the red dirt when Schiavone hit long on match point.

It was a thrilling display of shot-making from the Chinese player who has said she hopes that by winning a Grand Slam title she will act as a catalyst for the growth of tennis in her giant homeland. For 30-year-old Schiavone it was a bitter pill to swallow one year after she upset the odds to become Italy's first and so far only Grand Slam women's champion.

"I was 4-2 up and she tried to come back, but I just had to stand up again and I made it. I think everyone in China will be so excited," said Li. "I was nervous but I didn't want to show my opponent."

Schiavone said: "She played well. I couldn't push her from the baseline. Then we were closer. One has to lose, one has to win. She deserved to win."

In what was the the oldest Grand Slam singles final in 21 years, the combined ages of the two players was 60 years and 79 days.

Schiavone was looking to her claycourt expertise and experience of winning here last year to make the difference, while Li said that having played and lost a Grand Slam final already this year in Australia would help her confidence. With the final broadcast live on television in China, where interest in her exploits has spiralled, Li had the first break point of the match on a sultry, still afternoon on the Philippe Chatrier centre court but she clattered a forehand long. A tense, closely-fought final pitted the wiry Schiavone's vicious top spin and tactical guile against the more powerful flat-hitting of the athletic Li and it was the Chinese who prevailed.