China`s Li Na sets sights on next major title
Beijing: China`s newly-minted first Grand Slam champion Li Na, who won the French Open title at the weekend, is not resting on her laurels -- she`s already thinking about winning a second major title.
The 29-year-old Li, who beat defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4, 7-6 on Saturday at Roland Garros, also says she hopes her fellow Chinese players can be inspired by her victory to realise their full potential.
"When you have the first one, naturally you will think about the second one," Li said in an interview to a newspaper published on Monday.
The Wuhan native, who is known as a strong player on hard courts, confessed she was surprised that her major breakthrough came on the red clay in Paris.
"French Open title? No, I never thought about it before," Li admitted.
Li is having a breakthrough season. She reached the finals of the Australian Open in January -- eventually losing to Kim Clijsters -- before her historic win at the French, which gave Asia its first ever Grand Slam singles win.
When the new WTA rankings come out on Monday, she will be the world number four -- equaling the Asian record set by Japan`s Kimiko Date-Krumm.
Li, who had never gone beyond the fourth round at Roland Garros before this year, said her storybook success at the French would help her throughout the rest of the year on the grass and hard courts.
"Now I have more confidence playing on other surfaces," she told the paper, as she prepares for Wimbledon, which begins in two weeks.
Li`s win has generated a groundswell of support in a country where tennis still lags far behind basketball, football and table tennis in terms of popularity.
More than two million web users have registered as fans of Li on Sina Weibo, one of China`s most popular microblogging sites. Tens of millions watched her semi-final and final victories live on Television.
Chinese tennis chief Sun Jinfang said he was certain Li`s win would "inspire more youngsters to play tennis" in the country of more of 1.3 billion -- a vast market that both professional tennis tours have worked hard to develop.
China has four players in the top 100 on the women`s tour including Li. But on the men`s ATP tour, the top-ranked Chinese player, Bai Yan, is just 354th, and no Chinese man has ever played in a Grand Slam singles event.
Li said she hoped her victory could help change that.
"They are all very good players and they just don`t have trust in themselves. They need to believe that they can also do it," she said.
"Chinese people are so lacking in confidence (on the tennis court). If there is a person like me who can prove we can do it, the young players in China will feel the same."
She also dismissed the idea that her age could prevent her from adding to her career achievements.
"For me, age means nothing but strokes on paper. I`ll keep playing as long as I`m healthy," she said.