Li Na is first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title
China's Li Na created history on Saturday, when she became the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Li Na beat last year's champion Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 for the French Open title and take her place in the pantheon of Chinese sports stars.
Sixth seed Li, who lost the Australian Open final earlier this year, grabbed Italian fifth seed Schiavone's tactics sheet and ripped it apart in a confident display of power and accuracy.
Image: Li Na of China poses with the trophy after winning her women's final against Francesca Schiavone of Italy at the French Open on Saturday
Li hopes the win to boost growth of tennis in China
Li, who beat hard hitters Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova en route to the final, built her success on her flat baseline strokes and accurate serve as she dictated the points and sent Schiavone scurrying around the red dirt arena.
It was a thrilling display of shot-making from the Chinese player who has said she hopes that by winning a Grand Slam title she will act as a catalyst for the growth of tennis in her giant homeland.
Image: Li Na poses with her French Open trophy
'I was nervous but I did not want to show it'
Schiavone struggled to hit her stride but grew in confidence in the second set as Li wobbled having moved a break ahead.
However, the Italian's fingers were ripped away from the trophy in emphatic style as Li raced through the tiebreak without dropping a point.
"I was up 4-2 and she tried to come back and I thought 'ok you've got to stand up', and I made it", Li, who fell backwards to the clay and put her hands to her face in celebration, said courtside. "I was nervous but I did not want to show it, I was cheating a little bit."
Image: Li Na reacts after winning her women's final against Francesca Schiavone
'She has played really well today'
Schiavone was looking to her claycourt expertise and experience of winning here last year to make the difference, while Li said that having played and lost a Grand Slam final already this year in Australia would help her confidence.
Schiavone, who was bidding to become the sixth woman to retain the Roland Garros title since tennis turned professional in 1968, put on a brave face.
"It's really tough, but I have to say congratulations to Li Na because she improved this year and she played really well today," the 30-year-old Milanese said.
Image: Li Na of China (left) and Francesca Schiavone pose with their trophies
Li put Schiavone under pressure in the very first set
Right from the start Schiavone knew she was in for a scrap as Li, showing great composure, threatened to break in the opening game on a hot day.
Li levelled at 1-1 with more ease but both players started within themselves as the importance of the occasion sank in.
A netted volley and smart play from Li put Schiavone under pressure on her own serve in the fifth game and a wide forehand sparked the first break as the Australian Open runner-up went 3-2 ahead.
Schiavone, who herself became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title here last year, doggedly stayed in the set but Li allowed few chances, taking the opener in 39 minutes in which she gave up just five points on serve.
Image: Li Na
Schiavone fended off numerous break points
Li showed remarkable tenacity by breaking immediately at the start of the second set with more lusty blows and then saving a break point against her in the following game.
Schiavone tried desperately to get a foothold, fending off a numerous break points.
Those wasted opportunities looked like proving costly for Li's hopes of claiming the title as she suddenly looked rattled and blazed a forehand wide to allow a pumped-up Schiavone to haul herself back to 4-4, much to the delight of her vocal fans.
Image: Francesca Schiavone plays a return
Li maintained calm to set up a tiebreaker
With Li serving at 5-6 and the crowd eagerly anticipating a deciding set Schiavone lost her cool when she ranted over a line call, pointing angrily at a mark in the clay.
Had that decision gone her way she would have earned herself a set point. Instead Li remained calm, held serve to set up a tiebreaker and with clearly no appetite for tea-time drama, reeled off seven consecutive points for a landmark victory.
Image: Li Na of China (right) speaks with the referee during her women's final against Francesca Schiavone