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Li Na gets the home tennis court advantage

August 15, 2008 |  2:05 am

Li Na of China after defeating Venus Williams. BEIJING -- Thursday night's shocker in Olympic tennis -- OK, one of them, to go with Roger Federer and Serena Williams losing -- provided a nice chance to witness Chinese pride.

Li Na is ranked 29th. She is 26 years old, has been as high as No. 16 and has wins over the likes of former U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in a career that has stopped and started twice. Normally, you will find Li playing out on the back courts in the early rounds of Grand Slams, unless, of course, she is playing a marquee player.

Which is what took place at the Olympic Tennis Stadium Thursday night. Li Na was on, in the featured match, against Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.

Any place else and her chances of winning would have been nil. But she was home, and 10,000 people in the stands made sure, at every moment, that she knew that.

When she pulled off the upset, prompting a classic -- and likely unintentional put-down quote from Venus Williams -- she became the toast of the country.

Williams stepped on her lip when she tried to give Li credit.

"I think she's definitely had some nice results in her career," she said, "but nothing like this, against a player like me."

In the minutes after match point, the inner sanctum of the tennis stadium because a circus of young Chinese volunteers, either calling their friends on cell phones or sitting on the floor in the hallways, crying into their hands in joy.

For about half an hour after the match ended, the click-your-heels order and attention to duty that makes the Chinese so attractive and also so annoying fell apart. Young volunteers left stations to hug their friends down the hall. Entries, previously unpassable by anything short of a tank, were wide open.

It was great to watch.

For anybody in the good 'ol USA begrudging the home court advantage in Olympics, huge as it always is, harken back to Los Angeles in 1984, which basically turned into a 16-day photo op of Americans with arms raised in celebration.

It's China's turn now.

   -- Bill Dwyre

Photo: Li Na of China after defeating Venus Williams. Credit: Behrouz Mehri / AFP / Getty Images