FROM THE WWW.WTATOUR.COM
Player of the Week - Li Na
GUANGZHOU, China - After US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova was stretched to three sets in the second round at Beijing by little-known qualifier Li Na, many thought the Chinese player could make some noise in the future.
Well, it didn't take long for that noise to be heard from the 22-year-old as Li won her first WTA Tour title the following week at the Hansol Korea Open Tennis Championships and takes home honors as this week's WTATour.com Player of the Week.
It has already been quite a remarkable year for Li, who now has a 44-3 record - mostly built upon superb results on the ITF Women's Circuit.
But the reputation as a tough opponent started to grow two weeks ago in Beijing. After qualifying for her first main draw WTA Tour event of the year, she advanced to the second round with a 63 62 victory against Nicole Pratt.
Up next was Kuznetsova, who was riding a nifty winning streak and came to China fresh off a title in Bali. After dropping the first set 63, Li came back to stretch the match to three sets by winning a second set tiebreak. She then pushed Kuznetsova to another tiebreak, one that the Russian was able to win.
After the match, Kuznetsova was surprised with the game of the rising Chinese star.
"I was lucky to win," Kuznetsova said. "I needed to pick it up at the end to win. It was one of my toughest matches this year. It felt like I was playing a top 5 player."
Motivated by that solid performance, Li brought her game to Guangzhou, where she again rolled through qualifying - dropping just 10 games to reach the main draw.
After a 64 61 victory against Vera Douchevina, Li started to again turn some heads by recovering from a one set deficit to defeat No.2 seed Jelena Jankovic and then defeated No.6 seed Kristina Brandi in straight sets to reach her first WTA Tour semifinal.
From there, Li defeated countrywoman Li Ting, 63 63 and captured her first Tour title with a 63 64 victory against Martina Sucha in the final.
"I'm trying to keep a balance and not to get too excited about winning today," Li said. "I was nervous out there at the beginning and eager to win for the crowd. I didn't start too well because of this, but when I settled down, I felt much better. Beating a good player like Jankovic earlier this week gave me a lot of confidence for today."
With the victory, Li became the first Chinese player to win a WTA Tour title, completing a feat no other Chinese player was ever able to finish. From 1995 to 1998, six Chinese players reached Tour finals, but none were able to win a championship.
"I'm not concentrating too much on being the first Chinese WTA Tour (singles) champion," Li said. "My goal is to break into the Top 100 and once I've achieved that, to break into the Top 50."
After being ranked as high as No.125 back in 2002, Li took some time away from the game and didn't play for more than two years. She returned to action in May without a ranking, but didn't let that slow her down. Her season got off to a good start when she won three straight titles and 28 consecutive matches to begin the season on the ITF Women's Circuit.