French Open: Li Na hails "dream" Roland Garros triumph
By Piers NewberyBBC Sport at Roland Garros
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris
Date: 22 May - 5 June
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Red Button/online (UK only) & text commentary (#bbctennis) on BBC Sport website from 1000 BST; daily highlights programme on BBC Two; updates & commentary on BBC Radio 5 live/5 live sports extra
Li (left) will rise to number four in the rankings after her triumph in Paris
Li Na described becoming China's first Grand Slam champion as "a dream come true" after her French Open final win over Francesca Schiavone.
The 29-year-old seventh seed won 6-4 7-6 (7-0) to claim her first major title, after falling short in the Australian Open final earlier this year.
And after doubles wins at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, China can now celebrate an individual joining the game's elite.
"It's a dream come true," said Li, "because China never had a Grand Slam champion, so that's why so many players in China are working so hard. The dream is you can be the top player or win the Grand Slam."
“When I was a young player I wanted to be in a Grand Slam final," she said. "But today, some people say I'm getting old - so the old woman had the dream come true. Not easy”
Li's battle with 30-year-old Schiavone had the oldest cumulative age of two players in a Grand Slam final since Jana Novotna and Nathalie Tauziat battled it out at Wimbledon in 1998, something that gave Li an added sense of satisfaction.
"When I was a young player I wanted to be in a Grand Slam final," she said. "But today, some people say I'm getting old - so the old woman had the dream come true. Not easy."
Li's ranking is set to rise to a career-high four next week, something that seemed a long way off when she took a break from the sport between 2002 and 2004 to study journalism.
It was widely reported had she had fallen out with the national tennis federation, but asked to explain the decision, Li said: "I think because the ranking was always like over 120 and I always played small tournaments. I think it's no challenge for the self so that's why I said 'stop', and went to university to learn a different way."
During her time away she got married to Jiang Shan, who became her coach, and on her run to the Australian Open final in January Li won lots of fans with her on-court interviews, in which she regularly teased Jiang.
But following Melbourne she had a terrible run of four successive first-round defeats, prompting her to demote her husband to the status of hitting partner and bring in Thomas Hogstedt and Michael Mortensen.
"I think players changing coaches is normal," she said. "For the coach, you couldn't be with the player for like five or 10 years. So I just wanted to change. I wanted to be even better, so that's why after Melbourne I changed my team a little bit."
The decision has certainly paid off and Li admitted it had been an emotional moment when the Chinese flag flew over Court Philippe Chatrier while the anthem played.
"I think it's amazing, because I only knew this at the Asia games or the Olympics," she said. "And Also I got a text message from my friends, they said they were crying in China because they saw the national flag. I think if you're Chinese, everyone was excited at that time."
Interest was expected to be huge back in China but Li will not get the chance of a glorious homecoming for a while yet, with the grass-court season already under way and Wimbledon looming.
"After the French in the next two weeks is Wimbledon, so I don't have time to go back to China right now," she said, adding jokingly: "I'll go back after Wimbledon. If I don't do well at Wimbledon maybe the people forget me already. These are tough times.
"I think right now is the best time for me because I can enjoy it with my team, not like Melbourne. Now I'll just enjoy it with my team and focus on Wimbledon."
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