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Li makes tennis history at Wimbledon

Written by: Staff

LONDON, July 3 (Reuters) Li Na made tennis history at Wimbledon today reach a grand slam singles quarter-final, toppling Czech number 10 seed Nicole Vaidisova 4-6 6-1 6-3.

Vaidisova, a semi-finalist last month at the French Open, went straight on the attack, breaking Li's serve in the first game, maintaining her advantage throughout and finishing off with an exquisite drop shot.

An exasperated Vaidisova lost her rhythm completely in the second set. Li's low, flat forehands paid rich dividends and she raced to a 5-0 lead. She finished off the set with a crisply delivered ace.

In a tense deciding set, Li, who beat fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the last round, broke the Czech teenager's service in the fifth game and held on for an historic victory.

Li, 24, started her sporting career aged five as a badminton player in her native Wuhan. After a year, a tennis coach persuaded her parents to allow her to switch to the ball game.

Over the next 14 years, she moved through the sports system to the national squad but suddenly quit to go to university in 2002.

Perusaded by her boyfriend, she returned to the game in 2004 and within months had become the first Chinese player to win a singles title on the WTA tour with victory as a qualifier in the southern ciy of Guangzhou.

Her rise was spectacular. Last month, she became the first Chinese singles player to reach the top 30 in the world. At Wimbledon, she became the first Chinese singles seed in a grand slam.

While Chinese women have been a force in doubles for some time -- Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens while Zheng Jie and Yan Zi claimed the Australian open title in January -- it is only recently that the singles players have come to the fore.

Li now looks favourite to lead the charge with Chinese tennis looking forward to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Reuters PDS VV2108

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