Chinese tennis superstar Li Na became the first Chinese player, and the first Asian, to win a Grand Slam singles title at the French Open. From the New York Times:
After losing in her first Grand Slam final at this year’s Australian Open, Li drew on that experience and kept her temper and baseline power under control and, in the end, the only thing she lost command of was her balance. After Schiavone’s final one-handed backhand had landed long, Li fell to the clay on her back, dropped her racket and covered her eyes with both hands.
“Dream come true, “ Li said later of her 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory. “In China, never have champion for the Grand Slam, so that’s why in China so many players working so hard.”
[…] “This year she grow up so much, and she played today really well,” Schiavone said of Li in her postmatch remarks to the crowd.
She then turned to Li and said, “Enjoy this moment; it’s fantastic.”
[…] “In China itself, she was already a national hero, she’s just going to go to rock star status,” said Stacey Allaster, the head of the women’s tour.
CNN reports on Li Na’s reputation as a rebel in Chinese society:
To many Chinese, “China’s number one sister” is a maverick. She has a tattoo, has dyed her hair many different colors and has even been known to yell at her husband in public.
She cemented this rebellious reputation at the 2008 Beijing Olympics by telling her own fans to “shut up” when they got too vociferous in their support during every point she played against Russia’s Dinara Safina. Unfortunately this reaction did not go down too well with her supporters. “It was a very bad experience,” she told CNN. “Next time I will just ask them to be quiet!”
Tattoos are controversial for many Chinese and are often associated with bad behavior. But Li is not shy in showing off the rose which adorns her chest — she told fans it is the symbol of her love for her husband.
In late 2008, she quit China’s tennis program and started her own team. With this new arrangement, she was able to choose her own coach and pay 8-12% of her winnings to the government compared with 65% in the past, according to Jiefang Daily, a government-run newspaper.
This means she is now responsible to her own financial security. Many in China consider this to be a very daring move for someone who has always been looked after by the Chinese sports system.
See also: “Impressions from Li’s historic victory” from Sports Illustrated.