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Li shows nerve, skill in victory


Ten thoughts on Li Na's 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory over Francesca Schiavone in Saturday's French Open final:

1. At the start of the tiebreaker, with the crowd sensing a momentum shift toward Schiavone, Li played an all-court point for the ages: floating forehand return, lunging forehand get, backhand lob, then a cross-court forehand volley off Schiavone's sprinting retrieve. It was the type of point so many associate with Schiavone, and it showed that Li was eminently ready for the occasion.

2. Imagine what had to be weighing on Li's mind: She had never done this. No player from her country had ever done this. She's up against the defending champion. Only a couple of times - inconsequential in the end - did she show even a trace of nerves.

3. One of those nervous points threatened to undermine her chances. Trying to cash in on a break point that would have given her a 4-1 lead in the second set, Li netted a fairly easy forehand put away. To her credit, she dismissed the misfire as if it never happened.

4. Seldom in any recent Grand Slam has a player conquered such formidable opposition. Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Schiavone -- the last four obstacles in Li's path -- all had been picked as pretournament favorites within the tennis media.

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5. This is a massive, life-changing event in China, suggesting great things to come. It will be interesting to see, though, how Li is portrayed back home. She's a rebel in every sense, having broken away from the Chinese system in order to determine her own schedule and coaching. She nearly quit the game, nine years ago, because she found it too stressful. She's 29 years old, a clear message to young athletes that it's a long, hard grind to the top. And she wears a rose tattoo on her chest. This is not a country that welcomes defiance, but as Mary Carillo noted on NBC, "She will be a rock star to the youth of China."

6. The next step in China's tennis evolution: Get the men seriously involved. Right now, men's tennis ranks well behind soccer, basketball, table tennis and track and field.

7. Because tennis balls leave such a distinct mark on clay, the Hawk-Eye replay system is not in place at Roland Garros. It's time for a change. On a huge point -- at deuce in the game that sent the match into a tiebreaker -- Li's down-the-line backhand was called out, but overruled. As the chair umpire walked all the way to the other side of court, then inspected a mark that may or may not have been conclusive, it seemed the sport had regressed to the dark ages.

8. Schiavone is a master of thought, creativity and anticipation. It was nothing short of remarkable to watch her reacting late to Li's brilliantly disguised forehands, both cross-court and down the line. That one element, sheer power, was the match's deciding factor.

9. Who's No. 1 in the world? You can rule out an awful lot of players, including Caroline Wozniacki, from the standpoint of big-match performance. With an appearance in the Australian final and now this, Li (technically No. 4) has the edge on everyone.

10. A development no one could have forecast last year: As the grass-court season begins, there are two Chinese players (Li and Shuai Peng) in the top 20. Venus and Serena Williams are nowhere to be found. It's about time for them to join the party -- and Wimbledon awaits.