NEW YORK -- China's biggest tennis star has officially arrived in the United States.
Li Na, the outspoken and charming subject of this excellent New York Times Magazine story, will become the first Chinese player to play in the U.S. Open's semifinals after she defeated Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2 in the quarterfinals Tuesday.
"I always try to be the first one," she said, when asked if she was excited about her accomplishment, breaking a smile. "Of course it was exciting, because [it's my] first time in [the semis] in [the] US Open. So I was really proud of myself, because [this] is the last Grand Slam [until] the end of the year, but I still [was] fighting a lot on the court to try [my] best."
The road to get there was a sloppy one. Na had eight double faults and 42 unforced errors, but quickly took control in the third set, topping Makarova 6-2 in 30 quick minutes (by comparison the second set took 72 minutes) for the win.
"The way I played today?" she said to open her press conference. "I'm not so happy."
For Na, who according to the Times is the third highest compensated female athlete behind only Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, the win over Makarova was just another one of her many firsts: She was the first Chinese star to break the top five in tennis and the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam singles (she won the French Open in 2011).
Her trip to the tournament was further than many -- something she said she has adjusted to as her career has progressed.
"I will try to be there four or five days earlier because [I] at least have the jet lag, so I need to use the time to change that," the 31-year-old said of her travel plans. "Maybe like even when I was young, I'd only need to take two days, now it's at least four or five days, because I want to prepare ... 100 percent for a tournament."
As for how well she rests without her husband, whom she has previously needled in public for his snoring, she replied: "Right now after I have a hotel sponsor, I think this is no problem at all. Sometimes I was feeling if he [isn't snoring], I was like what happened? What's going on?"
Na is likely to take on Serena Williams, who is matching up against Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro later Tuesday.
She said she plans to spend the rest of the day relaxing.
"Then," she added. "Maybe tomorrow a little bit warming up and prepare for Friday."