Li Na's victory on the red clay courts of Roland Garros has caused a media frenzy in China. Her win at the French Open makes her the first Chinese and Asian woman to win a grand slam singles title and her play is inspiring a generation of budding tennis stars across the country.
After winning the French Open, Li Na is now ranked No. 4 equaling Kimiko Date of Japan as the highest ranked Asian woman tennis player ever. Li will stay in Europe to prepare for Wimbledon and looks set to serve up some strong play as China and the rest of Asia watches closely.
CCTV commentators equate the win to Lu Xiang's Olympic gold on the track and field and Yao Ming playing in the NBA. For 12-year-old Alvina Lai, Li Na is her new favorite player.
"Hi! My name is Alvina Lai and I come from Hong Kong. I've been playing tennis since I was three and a half and Li Na is my favorite because she won the French Open," says Lai after her tennis lesson.
At the Potters Wheel Tennis Academy on the outskirts of Beijing, groups of young girls are perfecting their backhand strokes. Carlos Rodriguez, the former coach of Olympic gold medalist and former world number one Justine Henin, is their full-time trainer.
"We have to use this momentum to encourage young players. I promise you she is going to inspire a lot of kids and players who are now going to say, 'It's possible for us now too. If she can do it, we can do it.' Whether that is in Thailand, Malaysia, China or whatever," says Rodriguez.
About 14 million Chinese play tennis, while more than 100 million play badminton. The tennis academy's director Andres Bruno says they are already expecting an increase in membership. "When Li Na lost the final of the Australian Open, more and more people called to sign up. Now, just a few days ago after Roland Garros, people are coming to sign up for the summer camps. I think there will be 20 or 30 per cent increase after Li Na's success," he says.
Twenty-two years ago the fresh-faced 17-year-old Chinese-American Michael Chang created history by becoming the youngest player to ever win a tennis grand slam.
His victory at the French Open sparked a tennis boom in Asia, making Prince Racquets and Reebok 'Pump' shoes fashionable must haves. But Li Na, notes Rodriguez, has the potential to be more than a 'one-slam wonder'. "There are a lot of players that win only once, but if her ambition is to be the No.1 player she can do it. She can improve her serve and her forehand and her stamina. Mentally, emotionally and physically it is not easy, but if she can recover, for sure she has the game. No doubt about that," he says.
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