China's darling Li heads to Wimbledon | sports | Hindustan Times
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China's darling Li heads to Wimbledon

sports Updated: Jun 20, 2011 13:32 IST
Reuters
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Li Na would have wiped off her deep purple nail polish by the time she opens her Wimbledon campaign but the weight of expectation on her shoulders after becoming the first Asian player to win a grand slam title will not be so easy to remove.

The 29-year-old Chinese won the French Open this month, earning her widespread adoration in her home country where national glory and athletic feats are closely linked.

She has yet to return to China after her 6-4 7-6 victory over Italy's Francesca Schiavone and by the time she does, she could have even more reason to celebrate if she performs well at the grasscourt grand slam at the All England Club.

"Of course there is a little bit of pressure but I have to be the same as before (winning at Roland Garros)," world number four Li told Reuters in an interview.

"The French is over and now I've come to Wimbledon. It's a different surface of course but I will try to be the same, just focus.

"I always do well on the grass courts. I always trust myself a lot that I can do well on grass courts," added Li, who reached the quarter-finals at last year's tournament.

With a reported 116 million people in her homeland having watched her Paris triumph on TV, hopes are high particularly as she will be seeking to reach the final of a third successive grand slam having been runner-up in January's Australian Open.

Having won a maiden grand slam title relatively late in her career does not mean she thinks it will be a one-off.

"I think that for Asian players, they are different to Western players who are grown-up so young and come to the court so young," she said.

"Asian players come late, they need more experience."

PAINTED NAILS
Smiley and bubbly in front of the cameras, Li would be equally happy on the other side of the interviewing table having taken time out of tennis to study journalism.

Asked what question she would ask if she was the one holding the microphone in front of a champion, she replied: "What are your plans? Winning the grand slam is a dream, now it's a dream come true. I'd like to know what do you have to do next?"

Slipping back into tennis player mode, she answered her own question: "In Chinese we say if you didn't go forward, you have gone backwards. Now I will try to play every game. If I have the chance I will try to help the young players in China."

She will get the chance to fulfill that ambition of nurturing the next generation after being named as an ambassador for Mercedes-Benz and its youth tennis projects in China.

Li, the tattoo on her chest and painted nails the more visible signs of a woman who likes to make a statement, has built a reputation of being strong-willed with a good sense of humour.

She was one of four players to break away from the Chinese state sports system to take control of their careers, enabling them to keep more of their prize money, decide which tournaments to enter and who to hire as a coach -- and who to fire.

There was no room for sentiment when she ditched her husband as her coach a couple of months before the French Open and employed Dane Michael Mortensen instead.

"He was like 'good job, well done'," she said of husband Jiang Shan's reaction to her win. "That was all, like so cool."

Li, seeded third at Wimbledon, opens her campaign against Russian Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round of the tournament which starts on Monday.

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