For such a wide-open women's draw at the French Open 2011, you'd think NBC would have found room to shoehorn Li Na, a defending Slam finalist, into the graphics, but no: Clijsters, Wozniacki, Sharapova, and Schiavone flashed past in the broadcast intro without a hint of her presence. Li has now defeated two of those players in straight sets this fortnight. Like Roger Federer, Li was a media afterthought in Paris this season, if not quite as ridiculous an oversight.
Apart from everything else there is to love about Li's story -- her record-setting run to two straight Grand Slam finals, one victorious; her comeback after leaving the sport to attend college; her eschewing of the Chinese Tennis Federation to train and compete as an independent athlete (a move that, by the way, deprives her government of any of her prize earnings) -- perhaps the most endearing is that she notched her first Slam victory on clay, her weakest surface. (Quoth Li afterwards to Mary Carillo: "[Schiavone's] a little older than me, so I wanted to keep her running.")
If you can't be bothered to remember Li for her play, or for her iconic status in her home country, never fear: She'll hammer her name home in your memory bank with her post-match quips. Just a bare handful of minutes after hoisting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, she was flummoxed by Carillo slipping into idiom, but recovered to her usual hilarious effect:
Carillo: "You'll never have to buy a drink in China!"
Li: [polite blank look]
Carillo, trying again: "Everyone's going to buy you drinks!"
Li, brightening: "Yeah, I think I will drink a lot."
Game, set, match, charmante.