Li's star is still rising
Updated: 2011-01-30 08:11
By Yu Yilei (China Daily)
A worker puts up a poster of Chinese tennis player Li Na at a shopping district in central Beijing January 29, 2011. Chinese reacted with sadness and disappointment after Li Na failed to win the Australian Open women's title on Saturday but said they were still proud she had managed to get as far as the final. REUTERS
Watching her lose to the more experienced Kim Clijsters in three sets in the Australian Open final was a huge disappointment to me, and the hundreds of millions of Chinese who urged her on in front of their TVs at the weekend.
But the loss did not make me think any less of her. The 28-year-old trailblazer from Wuhan achieved much more than I expected before the tournament (although she won the Sydney International, the tune-up event for the Australian Open by defeating Clijsters in that final).
No Chinese or Asian has ever advanced so far in a Grand Slam tournament. Li has simply shown that Chinese can do the same in sports that are traditionally dominated by Western athletes as Yao Ming does in basketball and Liu Xiang does in athletics.
When the new world rankings are released on Monday, Li will rise to No 7, a place that has never been reached by a Chinese player. Although it's just a small move up the table compared with her previous best of No 9 last year, it's a big stride forward for Li's career.
However, what remains more impressive to me was her gallant performance in the final. She did not look like a first-timer at all, winning the first set with ease and going head-to-head with Clijsters in the first half of the second set.
But big-stage experience finally made the difference. Clijsters taught Li a good lesson of what other things make a Grand Slam champion, apart from fearsome attack, by adjusting her tempo at the right time.
Despite the disappointment, I have to say it was a fair result - Li was in her first-ever Grand Slam final while Clijsters was playing her eighth and her second one in Rod Laver Arena.
Watching the Belgian proudly announce herself "Aussie Kim" because she had finally won the coveted crown, was a truly touching moment.
However, I will always member this match and the humanity, humor and courage Li displayed throughout the tournament.
Now I have to ask 'what's next for Li and China's tennis?'
As long as she stays healthy, I believe she can breakthrough eventually, just like Clijsters did at the Australian Open and Roger Federer at the French.
More importantly, more young Chinese children will be inspired by Li's success and follow her lead; like she said recently: "I think because now I am in the final, maybe many young players or children will see and think: one day I can do the same or ever better than that."
I became convinced of that when two of my colleagues, who probably have never watched a live match in their lives, rushed into my office and started to watch Li in the final.
Yu Yilei is the sports editor of China Daily. You can reach him at email@example.com.
(China Daily 01/30/2011 page8)
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