BEIJING -- One woman dominated Chinese media on Sunday -- tennis champion Li Na, the first Asian and first Chinese to win a grand slam singles title, whose victory at the French Open will raise her value as a spokeswoman for brands trying to reach China’s new consumers.
Li, now ranked No. 4 in the world in the WTA women’s standings, up from No. 7 before her three-set victory on Saturday in Paris, in February joined tennis stars Roger Federer and Ana Ivanovic on the endorsement roster for luxury watch brand Rolex in a deal of undisclosed value and also signed a multi-year deal with Haagen Daaz ice cream reported to be valued at up to $1 million a year.
And that was after Li, who wears the Nike swoosh on the court, was defeated at the Australian Open.
On Saturday, when Li took down defending French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4, 7-6 (7/0) at Roland Garros Stadium, Rolex ran a congratulatory ad on the front page of its web site featuring pictures of Li in action next to the specs for its diamond- and sapphire-encrusted steel and white gold Datejust watch, boasting a pink floral motif on its face inspired by the red rose tattoo that sits just below Li’s left collarbone.
Early on Sunday, most Chinese news web sites, newspapers and television and radio stations featured in bold type and at the top of their broadcasts the history-making victory by the self-deprecating 29-year-old former badminton player who once gave up tennis for two years to study journalism.
“Li Na wins first-ever grand slam tennis singles title for China and Asia,” the official Xinhua News Agency declared on its web site above a story about an attempted assassination of the president of China’s close ally Pakistan.
Li now is likely to ride her victory to more commercial endorsements trying to reach China’s increasingly confident and brand conscious consumers -- a group of roughly 200 million whose richest members comprise the world’s fastest growing market for luxury brands.
A veteran of the WTA Tour, Li exploded onto the global tennis radar after reaching the final of the 2010 Australian Open to become the first Asian, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam final in a singles tournament.
Li, who started playing tennis at age 9, was earlier this year ranked No. 35 on the Forbes list of Chinese celebrities after her defeat in Australia -- a ranking which now also surely will rise.