Sports / Tennis

Li Na sets up milestone for China, again

(Xinhua) Updated: 2013-12-17 13:16

BEIJING -- When Chinese superstar Li Na vowed to break into top three or win another major at the beginning of the year, many thought the big-mouthed woman might dream too big this time.

However, Li silenced those who suggested that her best was behind her, by compiling a "most consistent season in career" as described by herself, and eventually finishing third in the year-end world rankings.

Li was milestone in Chinese tennis history, again.

Li Na sets up milestone for China, again 
 Li Na reaches World No 3 at WTA

From being the first WTA title winner, to the first world top 10 and first Grand Slam champion, she has got used to it, making history for China and even for Asia.

"I'm very happy with what I achieved this year," Li said during the year-ending WTA Championships. "The whole team tried to do what we said, and we finally made it. It's a pretty good ending for 2013."

At the age of 31, Li has not only become the first Asian to reach world No 3 but her game is evolving cleverly enough to hope for further triumphs in 2014.

Although Li conceded the last nine games in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 loss to Serena Williams in the WTA Championships final last October, there was evidence of new tactical options and growing self-confidence as she overcame Victoria Azarenka, the world No 2, and then troubled the world No 1 in the opening set.

Reaching the flagship tournament for a consecutive third time was only the ice on the cake as Li's performance in 2013 can be seen as impeccable.

Li reached her third Grand Slam final in the Australian Open and made it to the US Open semifinals and Wimbledon quarterfinals. With those stellar results she even thought her standard in 2013 was higher than when she famously won the French Open two years ago.

Li's fine performances in 2013 suggests she is still improving at an age when many players are deemed to be in decline.

On many occasions, Li has talked about her age, with a taste of irony. "The oldest players have more experience on court," she said.

And when asked about whether she would now aim for world No 2 during the WTA Championships, "Why not?" she said.

Besides Li's continuous late-career surge, Peng Shuai, another Chinese Golden Flower, gave fans extra reason to cheer in 2013.

Peng, a regular singles player, found out she should possibly spend more time in playing doubles event, after she teamed up with Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-Wei to win Wimbledon title this season.

Peng and Hsieh, born four days apart in January 1986, have been friends since their junior days and won five of their nine doubles titles this year, including Wimbledon and the yearending WTA Championships titles.

Hsieh became the first player from Chinese Taipei to win a Grand Slam title while Peng gave China its first doubles crown at a major in seven years.

"We really enjoyed playing together this year," Peng told the WTA official website. "We had a really good time together on the court -- we fought sometimes, but it was still a lot of great memories."

So what's next for the reigning Wimbledon winners?

"We haven't really discussed yet," Hsieh said.

"Do we play together next year?" Peng asked.

"It depends on if we fight or not in the next two months!" Hsieh joked.

But it's still the singles event that weighs the most in the world of tennis.

Peng, who was ranked among the top 20 and is now 42nd in singles, hasn't won a singles title in her 13 years' career. She has decided to take more singles events in the coming season.

The milestone has been set up by Li, but Chinese fans are hoping more youngsters will come of age as quickly as possible.

Li, Peng and Zheng Jie are the players who have been flying the Chinese flag in world tennis, but this season witnessed the rise of Zhang Shuai, another player who bravely left the state system and chose to play by herself.

Outside the top 100 for almost two years, and without great results in the first half of the season, Zhang turned the tables on the tour after the US Open, winning 19 of 24 matches, a stretch that included her maiden WTA title in Guangzhou and her first WTA 125K Series title in Nanjing.

Zhang became the fifth Chinese player ever to win a WTA title after Li, Zheng, Yan Zi and Sun Tiantian. Now she's nearing top 50.

"Live the life like a dandelion, pursue our dream freely," said Peng on her microblog. While the veterans remain at their best, the young guns are coming up, expected to make a biggest splash in the coming season.

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