Na Li found herself in a second consecutive grand slam final. Francesca Schiavone found herself in a second consecutive French Open final. On Saturday, the consistent, deep-hitting player from China made sure that each player received a different fate than the last time around.
Li, the 2011 Australian Open runner-up, was nothing short of trophy-worthy in unseating Schiavone as French Open champion by a score of 6-4, 7-6(0). Schiavone had trouble finding her top level of consistency, which is a common result for Li’s opponents these days. Li spent her afternoon stroking the back quarter of the court and keeping the pressure on Schiavone, and the result is a much deserved first career grand slam championship, as well as the #4 world ranking come Monday.
Many are citing the fact that Li is the first Chinese tennis player to ever win a grand slam. I feel that is important, but too many times we Americans, by default, paint portraits of eastern athletes upon the canvas of their nationality. Perhaps it is because we need to try to add something to the story, but in Li’s case I would like to see the tennis press really get to know her as a person and player, because she has the personality to be more than just “the first Chinese grand slam champion ever.” She is one of the best players in a time period where women’s tennis is changing. Li can be a poster child for not quitting on your dreams of being the best in the world, despite conventional wisdom telling you that if you have not yet ascended to the shortlist by the time you approach your upper twenties, you should probably forget about ever being truly great.
Schiavone did well to get back to the finals, but today Li was too good. Credit to Na Li for making sure that her very goodness doesn’t go forever unnoticed. Now it’s time to get ready for Federer v. Nadal.