Media in China hail tennis player despite loss

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Media in China hail tennis player despite loss

SHANGHAI - Chinese media on Sunday praised Li Na for blazing a trail as the first Asian woman to reach a Grand Slam final despite her three-set defeat in the Australian Open final.

Chinese newspapers expressed disappointment at Belgium’s Kim Clijsters ending Li’s hopes of becoming the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title on Saturday but said their star’s best may be yet to come.

“Clijsters shatters Chinese dream” read a headline in the Shanghai Daily.

“Though frustrated, Li Na still has written a new page in Asian sports,” state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said on its Web site.

The 28-year-old from the central city of Wuhan sealed her position as one of the country’s sporting legends, said Sun Jinfang, head of the Chinese Tennis Association.

“Li Na is great despite the loss. .?.?. I hope she can keep up the good form,” Sun told Chinese Web portal Sina.

Even Clijsters said she could feel the Chinese fans’ excitement during a thrilling final in which she beat Li 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.

“I think there was obviously a lot of Chinese or Asian people out there that wanted to live this moment with her,” she said. “It’s nice to kind of see that Asia, and especially China, is starting to get recognized in this sport, too.”

Tennis is still building a following in China and lags behind basketball and football in popularity in a country of 1.3 billion.

Before Saturday’s final, Jiang Heping, the head of CCTV’s sports channel predicted 15 million people in China would watch the match, an audience share of only 0.8 or 0.9 percent, web portal Sohu reported.

The actual ratings were not immediately available on Sunday morning.

“I’m better known abroad than in China,” Li told Shanghai’s Xinmin Evening News in an interview on Jan. 19.

Li will move into the No. 7 spot when the new WTA rankings come out today - a career best. She said she hoped her success would help spark a tennis boom in China.

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