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Li Na, Ai Sugiyama Lead Asian Charge
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China's fledgling talent Li Na and Japanese warhorse Ai Sugiyama carry the torch for Asian tennis into the second week of Wimbledon.

Li is making a habit of writing her name into the All England Club history books and could add another entry today.

A week after becoming first Chinese player to be seeded in a singles draw at a grand slam, she became the first player from her nation to reach the singles fourth round at the grasscourt grand slam when she knocked out fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Next up for the record setter is French Open semifinalist Nicole Vaidisova and if Li defeats the Czech, she will become the first player from the world's most populous country to reach the singles quarterfinals at a grand slam event.

Li, one of a record three Chinese women to have reached the third round here this year, has benefited from her federation's push to produce world class players in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

While there is a strong contingent of Chinese women in the main draw, there are no men, a situation Li believes will change in the future.

"The Chinese tennis federation is concentrating more on girls' tennis to start with because it's easier," said the 27th seed.

Li's Wimbledon exploits follows several breakthroughs for China over the past few years.

At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Li Ting and Sun Tiantian became the first ever Chinese tennis medalists, winning gold in women's doubles. At the Australian Open in January, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi brought home China's first grand slam title in women's doubles.

Zheng and Li Na contested the first all-Chinese singles final at Estoril in May.

While Li has been enjoying a dream debut in southwest London, Japan's Sugiyama will want to prolong her 14th trip to the championships.

The experienced Sugiyama halted Martina Hingis' Wimbledon comeback in stunning fashion last Friday, storming back from 0-3 down in the third set to upset the 12th seed.

Sugiyama, who celebrates her 31st birthday on Wednesday, will fancy her chances of reaching the last eight here for the second time in three years as she will face French qualifier Severine Bremond in the last 16.
(Shanghai Daily July 3, 2006)

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