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Li rolls back the years in Paris

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Originally published on: 02/09/11 13:19

At 29 years old, Li Na proved a point to those who doubted her ability to win one of the big four after becoming the first Chinese player in history to win a Grand Slam singles title. “Someone was saying I’m getting old,” grinned the Wuhan native after wrestling the Roland Garros crown from the grip of last year’s champion Francesca Schiavone.

“You know, the old woman like the dream to come true,” she added. “Not easy, of course, [but] it’s exciting. Not so many players can win a Grand Slam.”

Going into the final, Schiavone had perhaps been the favourite to defend the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen she won in Paris last year, not just for the fact that memories of the occasion were fresh in the mind but also because Li had never before won a title on clay and had lost to the Italian in straight sets in the third round of the tournament in 2010.

This time out, 31-year-old Schiavone was pushed around the baseline and failed to deal with Li’s probing groundstrokes, admitting afterwards that she had relinquished her crown to a deserving champion. “She played really, really, deep, so I couldn’t play my spin, and really high so she could come in,” reflected the Milan native.

“I think at the end we were really close and the set could be for me or for her. But at the end, she won. She deserves this final.”

Quite remarkably, Li – who had lost to Kim Clijsters in her maiden Grand Slam final at the Australian Open this January – confessed that neither her mother or immediate family were likely to have watched her complete the historic triumph.

“I didn’t contact her,” she admitted afterwards. “My mum and sister always say, ‘Oh, she’s playing now,’ and then they turn off the TV because it made them nervous. I don’t think she watched but I will contact her later.”

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