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Li Na wins women's French Open crown

Saturday, June 4, 2011

/ Published by Simon L Infimate
Paris: China's long wait for a Grand Slam champion ended Saturday when Li Na beat Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (0) in the French Open final.

The Australian Open runner-up celebrated by falling flat on her back in the red clay after Schiavone hit a backhand long on match point.

"I was nervous but I didn't want to show to my opponent," said Li, who appeared to be letting the match slip away in the second set. "I was a little bit shaking."
Li Na wins women's French Open crown

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

"I couldn't really push forward from the baseline," Schiavone said. "She deserved to win. One has to lose, one has to win. She deserves everything."

On Sunday, five-time champion Rafael Nadal will face Roger Federer in the men's final.

The title was only Li's fifth in her career, and first on clay.

She was broken only once by the defending champion, while she converted two of her eight break points — one in each set. She finished with 31 winners, while Schiavone had only 12.

Li took a 3-2 lead in the first when Schiavone sent a forehand wide. She held at love in the next two games, and then won the set when Schiavone sent a forehand long.

The Chinese player opened the second set with her second break of the match, and then saved Schiavone's first break point in the next game with an ace. But Schiavone broke back in the eighth game to even the score at 4-4.

Both players held the rest of the way, but Schiavone came within two points of winning the set on five occasions, three times at 5-4 and twice more at 6-5.

The point that first put Schiavone that close was a bit awkward. Schiavone sent a backhand return straight at Li, but the ball skidded off the white baseline and under Li's racket, causing her to take a big swing and miss.

Schiavone raised her hand to apologize, and then lost the next point when she stretched for a forehand and sent it wide.

Although Li has said she is not a big fan of playing on clay, her power and precision worked well against Schiavone, who last year became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title.

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

After losing to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open final, the 29-year-old Li lost her next four matches. But she recovered her form shortly before the French Open, reaching the semifinals in Madrid.

By winning Saturday, Li is expected to jump to No. 4 in the rankings, equaling the record for the highest ranking by a woman from Asia. Japanese player Kimiko Date-Krumm has also been ranked No. 4.

Both Li and Schiavone came into the final with plenty of experience. Combined, they were the oldest pair in a women's Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 1998, when Jana Novotna, 29, beat Nathalie Tauziat, 30.

~ Associated Press
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