Li, China beat Germany, reach Fed Cup world group
BEIJING -- 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 No. 22 found her best form just when she needed to 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 quarterfinals at a grand slam, and Zheng Jie and Yan Zi secured the country's first major titles in the women's doubles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
"It's much easier playing at home," Li told reporters. "Today I could feel a great number of people behind me, supporting and encouraging me."
Germany was weakened by the absence of injured world No. 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.
"The way the German girls played was a little strange to me," Li added. "I wasn't as concentrated as I was yesterday."
She 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.
"It was my first time playing a top 30 player," Woerle said. "When I was serving for the second set, she gave me no chance at all on three of the points.
"I think she's going to be at the top for a while."
With the tie settled, Olympic doubles champion Sun Tiantian stood in for Zheng in the final singles match and lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to Tatiana Malek.
Zheng and Yan beat Malek and Jasmin Woehr 6-3, 6-4 in the final match.
"Even though my players were tired and not at their best I'm very satisfied with their performances and how they fought for their country," China's coach Jiang Hongwei said.