40 LOVE Moments: The All-Chinese Final
Published May 02, 2013 12:00
OEIRAS, Portugal - It was May 7, 2006. Mission Impossible 3 was the No.1 movie in the US; Bad Day by Daniel Powter was No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And across the pond in Oeiras, history was being made - Li Na and Zheng Jie were playing in the first, and so far only, all-Chinese WTA final.
Chinese tennis had been booming for a few years - Li Ting and Sun Tiantian put that boom into high gear by winning the gold medal in doubles at the Athens Olympics in 2004, and others followed, such as Li winning China's first WTA title later that year in Guangzhou, Zheng winning China's second WTA title at Hobart in early 2005, then Yan Zi winning China's third WTA title at Guangzhou later that year - and then perhaps China's biggest accomplishment at the time, Yan and Zheng teaming up to win the Australian Open doubles title in 2006, their country's first Grand Slam title of any discipline.
So Li and Zheng making the final of the Portugal Open together that year was another breakthrough for their country - it wasn't easy, though, as they had to take down the Top 2 seeds to get there - Li beat No.2 seed Gisela Dulko in the quarterfinals, Zheng No.1 seed Flavia Pennetta in the semis. And Zheng also had to get past someone by the name of Victoria Azarenka in her first match of the week - the Belarusian was just on the rise at the time, though, a No.122-ranked lucky loser in the draw.
It was nothing short of drama as Li and Zheng went toe to toe under hot, sunny skies in the final, Li winning the first set in a tie-break and the two staying even through 5-all in the second set as the clock pushed past two hours - but Li's condition started breaking down a little bit late in that second set, some leg cramping setting in, and Zheng won the next two games to make it one set apiece.
As the third set got underway and the heat continued to pound down on them it was all just too much, and the No.8-seeded Li retired from the match due to heat illness. The No.6-seeded Zheng won the first ever all-Chinese WTA final, 67(5) 75 retired, bringing home China's fourth ever WTA title.
"The first two sets were really good tennis, but I feel so sorry for Li Na right now," Zheng said.
There was a little bit more history made that day, too - with Olympic champions Li Ting and Sun Tiantian winning the doubles title, it was just the second time Chinese players swept the singles and doubles title at a WTA event, after Zheng's aforementioned triumph in Hobart in 2005, where she also won the doubles title alongside Yan. That feat has not been repeated since then, either.
At that time no Chinese player had ever been ranked in the Top 30 - how times have changed...