Li Na, who became the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title, was hailed by local media as a resurgent champion after she advanced to the final of the Australian Open yesterday.
“After 600 days of waiting, the victor has returned,” the official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday, referring to the time that’s passed since her 2011 French Open victory. “She’s back,” the China Daily declared of Li, whose picture also appeared on the front page of today’s People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party.
Li’s French Open title was followed by endorsement agreements with Daimler AG, Taikang Life Insurance Co. and other companies seeking to win Chinese consumers by linking their products with the 30-year-old native of Hubei Province. Retail sales in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, surged 14.3 percent last year.
“There is a lot of national pride in China and sports events are one of the best ways to project China’s image as a superpower on a world stage,” said Ben Cavender, a Shanghai- based analyst at China Market Research Group.
The sixth-seeded Li defeated Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 in Melbourne yesterday. Li lost in the 2011 Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters of Belgium, before going on to win her first Grand Slam title at the French Open. Li will face defending champion Victoria Azarenka, the top seed, tomorrow.
China Central Television’s sports channel plans to broadcast tomorrow’s final and bars in Shanghai and Beijing advertised that they would show the match. Li’s 2011 French Open final match was watched by 116 million viewers in China.
The state-run Global Times newspaper said Li’s run to the final had rekindled “the expectations of millions of fans back home through her success in one of the world’s most popular commercial games and her charismatic performance.”
Xinhua credited Li’s win yesterday to tough training with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, adding that Li is much more experienced and calm this year.
“Being emotional used to make her performance unstable on court,” People’s Daily said in a commentary today. That’s changed, and now “rivals cannot read any information from her face” during important points, the commentary said.
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