Defending champion Li Na reaches the fourth round of the French Open
Fans in her native China can watch her progress at special exhibition in Beijing
The 30-year-old has become one of the world's highest-paid female athletes
She is joined in the last 16 at Roland Garros by world No. 2 Maria Sharapova
While Li Na was battling to keep her French Open title defense alive on Saturday, the scene of last year’s triumph was being recreated in her native China.
Such has been the impact of Asia’s first grand slam singles champion in her homeland that tennis chiefs are seeking to bring a bit of Roland Garros to Beijing.
A clay court and two giant screens have been set up in one of the city’s major shopping malls for an interactive experience that will last until the tournament ends on June 10.
“I’m very pleased that a country like China follows our prestigious tournament,” French Tennis Federation president Jean Gachassin said in a statement.
“For us, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to promote clay-court tennis. I’d like to heartily thank the Chinese Tennis Federation for welcoming us on their home soil for this fabulous event.”
Courting a country with a population of 1.3 billion makes sense for any sport serious about global growth, and the exhibition has been backed by major sponsors such as Longines, Lacoste and Peugeot.
Li has become a marketer’s dream in the past 12 months, securing lucrative endorsement deals which have made her the second highest-paid athlete in the world behind fellow tennis star Maria Sharapova.
Her hopes of being around for next weekend’s women’s final remained alive after she came from behind to beat young American Christina McHale on Saturday.
The 30-year-old rebounded from a first-set debacle in which she made 24 unforced errors to triumph 3-6 6-2 6-1 and earn a last-16 clash with Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova.
The world No. 7 had a surprisingly tough match against an opponent 10 years her junior and 29 places lower in the rankings, one who lost in the first round in Paris last year and in 2010.
“Tennis is best of three sets, so even if I lose the first set, I still have a chance,” said Li, who is the only Chinese player left in the tournament after Peng Shuai lost to Sharapova on Saturday.
“In the first set I was just following what she was doing. I felt like she was the champion on the court. But I changed a little bit at the beginning of the second set to play my way, and I’m happy I was able to do that today.”
Li beat Francesca Schiavone in last year’s final, but the 2010 French Open champion will not feature in the second week of this tournament after suffering a 3-6 6-3 8-6 defeat by Uzbekistan-born American Varvara Lepchenko.
The 63rd-ranked Lepchenko’s reward for beating the Italian is a daunting clash with fourth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova, who battled to a 6-2 4-6 6-1 win against Russia’s world No. 109 Nina Bratchikova.
Second-ranked Sharapova cruised into the fourth round as she crushed 28th seed Peng 6-2 6-1 to set up a clash with Czech Klara Zakopalova, who defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The 25-year-old Sharapova was a semifinalist here last year and in 2007, but the Russian may finally win the only grand slam title to elude her if she can keep up the form that has seen her drop just five games in three matches so far.
However, fellow former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki must continue her agonizing wait for a first major title.
The Dane, now ranked ninth, saved four match-points before losing 1-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 against Estonian 23rd seed Kaia Kanepi.
Kanepi blew 5-1 leads in the last two sets, but held her nerve to earn a last-16 clash with 21-year-old Dutch player Arantxa Rus.
Last year Rus beat former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters before losing in round three, and she has gone one step further after eliminating German 25th seed Julia Gorges 7-6 (7-5) 2-6 6-2 in a match that ended as darkness fell.