China's Li finally finds feet on clay at French Open
Updated: 2011-06-02 06:51
Li Na of China reacts after defeated Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during their quarter-final match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris June 1, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
PARIS - Li Na said she had surprised herself after becoming the first Chinese player to reach the last four in singles at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
Sixth seed Li beat hard-hitting Belarussian Victoria Azarenka 7-5 6-2 on court Philippe Chatrier to seal a clash with another risk-it-all player in the shape of former world number one Maria Sharapova who is closing in on her career grand slam.
"So you think I'm not so good?" Li, who was runner-up at the Australian Open this year, joked when asked if she had thought she could play so well on clay.
"I never think I can play semis in Roland Garros. Think I can play on other three, but never think about for French Open.
"Clay courts for all Asia people are not so well because you have to slide a lot. Also you have to play a lot of topspin. But Asians play flat."
With Sharapova waiting in the next round she will at least be reassured that her opponent is also not a natural mover on clay, even if she has been impressive so far here.
"I would not have liked to play a Spanish player for example, someone who plays with a lot of topspin, drop shots," Li said. "I always have to run and hit the ball. I hate that."
Run she did, however, against fourth seed Azarenka.
It was a close battle until halfway through the second set on a sun-soaked court.
She broke in the 12th game to claim the opening set and sustained the pace in the second, stealing Azarenka's serve to open a 4-2 lead that ended her opponent's resistance.
Although she played down her claycourt skills, Li said solid performances in Madrid and Rome had given her some belief going into the year's second grand slam.
"My team told me 'you can play clay court'. I was, like, 'Oh, really ? I know I win many matches on clay, but I still couldn't believe I could play well on clay," she said.
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Li Yuchun first came to prominence in 2005 as the Super Girl winner, and since then has become an international star.