China, on Sunday, hailed Li Na’s “historic” victory in the final of the French Open with some state media saying the tennis player had already overtaken NBA basketball star Yao Ming, as the nation’s top sports personality.
“Li Na makes history in Paris,” said a headline in the Shanghai Daily newspaper.
“It will encourage more people to play individual sports rather than sports like football and basketball, and might make more people want to leave the national teams,” Wang Jun, a Beijing-based designer, told the German Press Agency dpa, following Li’s victory over Francesca Schiavone.
“My dream has finally come true. Let’s all make more effort together!” Li told fans, on her microblog on the popular Sina.com website.
A headline on the website of People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said, Li had “written an Asian legend.” “History-making Li Na claimed the first-ever grand slam women’s singles title for China and Asia,” said another headline in the Global Times newspaper.
The government’s Xinhua news agency said, Li becoming the first Asian to win a Grand Slam tournament “reflects China’s dynamism.” “Li Na has overtaken Yao Ming, Liu Xiang and Ding Junhui,” the agency said, referring to China’s three top sports personalities in recent years.
Ding is a snooker champion, while Liu is a former world record holder and Olympic gold medallist in the men’s 110 metres hurdles.
“This win is truly a breakthrough in a sport that has been dominated mainly by players from Europe, Australia and America,” several reports quoted Sun Jinfang, the head of China’s tennis federation, as saying in Paris.
“It is a massive source of pride for all the Asians and it can serve as a great milestone for the development of Chinese tennis,” Sun said after watching Li. “She is a new image of Chinese sport.” After her semi-final victory over Maria Sharapova on Thursday, some Chinese media had hailed Li as the “Number One Sister” of Chinese sport, with the Global Times praising her “Chinese fighting spirit.” She has become a favourite of the Chinese media since she reached the final of the Australian Open in January, when she lost to Kim Clijsters.
Earlier state media commentaries said, the success of Li, who is also known as a “golden flower”, was likely to promote “tennis fever” in the nation of 1.3 billion people.
Li was among a group of outstanding women’s tennis players, including fellow WTA player Zheng Jie, who were nicknamed the Golden Flowers by state media after Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won gold in the women’s doubles at the Sydney Olympics, in 2004.
Li and three other Golden Flowers - Zheng Jie, Peng Shuai and Yan Zi - formally ended their state contracts in 2009 to become independent professionals.
The number of state-registered tennis players mushroomed from a few hundred in 2004 to about 3,000 last year, while the estimated number who regularly play the sport grew from 2 million to 30 million over the same period, China Daily reported.