Distracted, Li stopped and let the ball drop. The words of support were in Mandarin: "Jia you!" -- which loosely translates to "Let's go!" After so many years of "Come on" and "Allez" and "Vamos," there's a new language on the tennis landscape.
Li became the first Chinese player, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam singles title by beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (0) at Roland Garros on Saturday. The sixth-seeded Li compiled a 31-12 edge in winners, and won the last nine points of the match, a run that began when the fifth-seeded Schiavone was flustered by a line call she was sure was wrong.
"China tennis -- we're getting bigger and bigger," said Li, who is projected to rise to a career-best No. 4 in Monday's new WTA rankings.
She already was the first woman from that nation of more than 1 billion people to win a WTA singles title, the first to enter the top 10 in the rankings, and the first to make it to a Grand Slam final -- she lost to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open.
Li repeatedly set up points with her backhand, then closed them with her forehand, and she finished with 21 winners from the baseline, 15 more than Schiavone. Only after Li controlled the first set and the early part of the second did Schiavone begin working her way into the match.
"I tried to push more, to risk more," Schiavone said.
She broke to 4-all in the second, and held to lead 6-5. The 12th game was pivotal.
Serving at deuce, Li smacked a backhand that landed near a sideline but initially was called out by a line judge, which would have given Schiavone a set point. Schiavone wouldn't win another point.
Li is 29, and Schiavone turns 31 later this month, making for the oldest combined ages of French Open women's finalists since 1986.