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Li powers China to Fed Cup elite

July 16, 2006 11:38 IST

Li Na blasted China to another milestone on their march to power status in women's tennis when she secured her country a place in the Fed Cup elite for the first time on Sunday.

The world number 22 found her best form in a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Germany's Kathrin Woerle which gave China an unassailable 3-0 lead in their World Group playoff at the Beijing International Tennis Centre.

China will now play in the eight-team World Group in 2007, while twice Fed Cup champions Germany were relegated to the second tier of the women's international team competition.

The victory was another first in a breakthrough year in which Li became the first Chinese player to reach the singles quarter-finals at a grand slam, and Zheng Jie and Yan Zi secured the country's first two grand slam titles in the women's doubles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Germany were weakened by the absence of injured world number 16 Anna-Lena Groenefeld. Both Woerle and Kristian Barrois, who lost to Li in the opening singles match on Saturday, were making their debuts for the country.

Brimming with confidence after reaching the last eight at Wimbledon this month, Li raced into a 3-0 lead in the first set before Woerle found her feet sufficiently to take advantage of her opponent's frequent mistakes and break back.

Li bided her time, though, and won the set with another break in the 12th game when her opponent sent a forehand long.

Woerle showed great spirit and won another break in the fifth game of the second set but again Li saved her best for when it really mattered.

At two set points down, the 23-year-old found another gear and rode out of trouble on the back of some fierce forehands and equally unplayable backhands, securing China's historic progress with her 31st winner.

Zheng, who beat Woerle on Saturday, will play Barrois in the final singles before teaming up with Yan against Tatiana Malek and Jasmin Woehr in the final rubber.

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