WildChina > WildChina > Li Na wins French Open

Tennis courts are cropping up on the grounds of Beijing apartme players nt complexes, tennis whites gleam on the backs of as they carry racquets to the courts…On occasion, even stray tennis balls peep out of the mouths of mangy Beijing dogs. Tennis is becoming bigger in Beijing, and with Li Na ringing home the women’s championship title at the French Open, it can only get bigger from here.

Li Na wins French Open

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sporting a soft expression and kind smile, this rising star has an intensity that was at last rewarded during the final of the 2011 French Open on June 4. Though this was not Li Na’s first championship match at a Grand Slam tournament – she competed against Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open earlier this year – it was her first win. With incredible athleticism and explosive ground strokes, Li Na won the final against Italy’s Francesca Schiavone in straight sets, becoming the first Chinese tennis player and the first female Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Li Na’s success in tennis has been paralleled by increased enthusiasm for tennis among the Chinese, and this correlation is no accident. Though many underestimated Li Na’s potential, assuming she would pave the way for even more talented players in China’s future, Li Na’s success suggests that China is closer to becoming a tennis powerhouse than once thought.

Li Na was originally part of a state-supported system to scout for talented young athletes. Once spotted, these kids are enrolled in sports schools for training. Though Li Na started out playing badminton, she switched sports when her coach noticed she looked more like a tennis player. She has since left the China system to find coaching outside of her home country, but that hasn’t stopped inspired Chinese parents from encouraging their kids to play tennis.

According to the World Tennis Association (WTA), more than 130 million Chinese are interested in tennis. China is host to several WTA and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) events, including a flagship event in Beijing.

It is estimated that 14 million Chinese play tennis regularly, which though a comparatively small number considering the total population of the country, is on the rise. (Even the WildChina office has a weekly tennis outing every Thursday.) If Li Na can bring as much of China’s attention to tennis as Yao Ming did to basketball, there’s no telling how big it could get.

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Photo from Tennis Tournaments

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