Li Na claims French Open title from defending champ
PARIS -- When Li Na walked back into the players' lounge on Saturday afternoon, she did so as a Grand Slam champion. It was only minutes before that she'd dominated defending champion Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (0) to become the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
There were tons of relatives, friends and others hanging around for Schiavone. Members of the Li entourage could be counted on less than two hands, but when Li entered the facility the sound of their cheers belied their small number. They clapped and chanted for her, which brought tears to her eyes.
She gave a quick hug to her husband, Jiang Shan, then to all the others in her party. The couple isn't the type that goes for any public displays of affection, but this was a special occasion. He shyly put his hands on her face, drawing her closer to exchange a brief kiss. She walked away smiling and wiping away yet another tear.
"Before the match I tell her, 'Don't think about win or lose, you are here,'" Jiang said. "Just play tennis and enjoy the match. But she [did] win, so I'm happy."
Four weeks ago Li decided to shake things up because she thought her game had stalled since reaching the Australian Open final. At the Madrid tournament, she replaced her husband -- as her coach -- with a new voice, Michael Mortensen.
Now she's a Grand Slam champion, and she knew that Mortensen deserved a nod of appreciation.
"Thank you, Michael," she said, hugging him in the players' lounge. He responded in kind: "I'm so proud of you."
The two don't have a permanent coaching arrangement in place, at least not yet. But Mortensen will be with her at least through Wimbledon. Mortensen, a former player, first spied Li when he did commentary for Eurosport.
"I thought she was one of the most interesting players on the tour," Mortensen said. "You would always see tennis on a high level, because she was not afraid of trying different things. That's what I like about her and her personality: she has a big heart, is a funny girl, and very nice to be around."
Mortensen said he kept his before-match pep talk simple. He told the 29-year-old, who reached her first Grand Slam final at Australia this year, to have fun.
"I told her to enjoy the match today and show Schiavone from the beginning that you're ready for the match and you're not afraid of playing the final again," Mortensen said. "I told her to have a strong presence from the beginning so Schiavone won't have time to play her game."
If you're wondering how popular Li is at home in China, here's one way to judge: Her page on Sina, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook, has 2 million followers.
"I think after today I should have more coming to the page," said Li, who revealed that about 500,000 more signed on recently to be her friend.
While sitting in a small room at the French Open media center, Li sent a blog message out to all 2 million of her fans.
"I just say that today I just got a first Grand Slam title," Li said. "Thanks all the fans for supporting me and enjoy the day."
Many fans were anticipating a French Open final between world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic, the hottest player in the men's game this year. But Roger Federer had something to say about that lineup, and he said it very loudly. He ended Djokovic's 41-0 winning streak for the year, as well as his opportunity to win an eighth consecutive title, with a stunning 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) semifinal win.
Federer heads into his fifth French Open final -- he won in 2009, but has lost to Nadal the three times they've played in the French between 2004-2006.
Nadal, however, insisted on Saturday he wasn't surprised he'd be playing Federer, a record 16-time Grand Slam champion, instead of Djokovic.
"You are more surprised than me, for sure," Nadal said. "We know how good is Roger. Roger is having I think, in my opinion, a good season. … Always is an honor to play against him, and for sure is not surprise to see Roger in the final of another Grand Slam."