Two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na of China becomes first Asian born to be inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame

The Associated Press
Chinese Li Na won the 2011 French Open, becoming the first Asian to win a Grand Slam tournament and went on to win the Australian Open in 2014

Newport: Li Na has broken new ground. The 37-year-old former Chinese player on Saturday became the first Asian-born to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

She was enshrined along with Mary Pierce of France and Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov during a lengthy on-court ceremony that followed the Hall of Fame Open semifinals and stretched from sunset into nighttime.

Li became the first Asian to win a Grand Slam tournament when she had won the 2011 French Open in a final that was watched by an estimated 116 million people in her country. "I did not know before I came to the court or it would have made me more nervous," she said during a mid-afternoon news conference.

"I started when I was eight years old, but I hated tennis," she told the crowd. "Not bad, at least I'm standing here right now. "She also captured the 2014 Australian Open, having been the runner-up twice before."

Both semifinal matches at the Hall of Fame Open on Saturday went three sets, prompting the late ceremony for the trio of two-time Grand Slam singles champions. "The goal is worth the effort required to achieve it," said Pierce, fighting back tears at the start of her 29-minute speech.

The 45-year-old Kafelnikov was described on his plaque as "one of the most dominant Russian Players of his generation." He had captured the 1996 French Open and three years later won the Australian Open.

"I know now what it is to be a Hall of Famer," he told the crowd. "I will carry that responsibility for the rest of my life, and hopefully I won't disappoint you." Predominately a baseline player who reached number one ranking in the world in 2002, he had won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics and helped Russia win the Davis Cup in 2002.

"It means that I did it because of hard work," he said. "All my success came because I did work hard."

Walking into the Hall a day before his induction, Kafelnikov was taken back. "I was stunned when I was walking upstairs for the first time to see the museum," he said. "From the tennis records to the cups, to medals from the Olympics. I cannot describe how emotional I was."

Pierce, 44, lived her dream by playing the French Open. She did more than that, winning it in 2000. She had also captured the Australian Open five years earlier. "It was my dream in tennis to hopefully play the French Open after watching it as a young girl on TV," she said. "Then to win it was my dream come true."

Pierce played her final match against Li at the 2006 U.S. Open. "Look where we are today," she said, looking at Li, seated to her right.

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