Li beats Schiavone to win French Open

China's Li Na becomes the first player from an Asian nation to claim a Grand Slam singles title.

    Li Na was even more determined to win after her Australian Open finals loss to Kim Clijsters earlier this year [AFP]

    China's Li Na made history at Roland Garros on Saturday beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone 64, 7-6 (7-0) to become the first player from an Asian nation to win a Grand Slam singles title.

    A brilliant display of shot-making by the 29-year-old from Wuhan gave the rising star her place in the record books.

    Putting aside her Australian Open final loss at the beginning of the year, Li clinched victory with a superb 7-0 tie-break performance in the second set.

    "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."

    Match point

    Having beaten Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova on her route to the final, Li fell flat on her back in the red clay after Schiavone hit a backhand long on match point.

    The crowd at Roland Garros was dotted with red Chinese flags and a small vocal group supporting Schiavone.
    And despite dropping her serve for the only time late in the second set, Li won the final nine points of the match to earn her first major title.

    Li had the first break point of the match on a warm, still afternoon on the Philippe Chatrier centre court but she clattered a forehand long.

    A hard-fought start to the final pitted Schiavone's effective top spin and tactical guile against the more powerful flat-hitting of the athletic Li and it was the Chinese seventh seed who drew first blood in the fifth game.

    A poorly executed drop shot from Schiavone gave Li two break points and she took the second of these when an under-pressure Schiavone hit a forehand wide.

    Holding serve

    Li Na walks into the history books [REUTERS]

    Li then held serve three consecutive times to take the first set 6-4 in 39 minutes and she looked in control heading into the second set.

    She earned three more break points as Schiavone struggled to contain her weight of shot and the Chinese player let out a shout of triumph as she converted the final one of those.

    Schiavone fought back and earned her first break point of the final in the next game.

    Li immediately answered that with a big first serve and then confidently moved out into a 2-0 lead.

    Another netted drop shot gave Li a further break point in the fifth game, but with the court wide open the Chinese star blasted a shoulder-high forehand into the net with a 4-1 lead on offer.

    Li was looked increasingly in control of her own serve as she comfortably held for 4-2 but she saw another break point against Schiavone go astray in the next game.

    The missed opportunities immediately came back to haunt her as she flung in three unforced errors when serving for a 5-3 lead and Schiavone pounced to secure her first service break of the match.

    Both players then held serve twice to force the tie-break but Li dominated that from the start to put her name into the record books.

    In form

    For Li, the year started well but soon took a dip.

    After losing to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open final, Li lost her next four matches. But she recovered her form shortly before the French Open, reaching the semi-finals in Madrid.

    By winning on Saturday, Li is expected to jump to No. 4 in the women's rankings, equalling the record for the highest ranking by a woman from Asia.

    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.

    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." 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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