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Record Chinese Television Audience Watches Li Na Win at the French Open

The audience of 116 million almost doubled the number who watched Li lose at the Australian Open.

SHANGHAI – A record breaking 116 million Chinese watched tennis champion Li Na win the French Open on television last weekend, the World Tennis Association said, making her defeat of Francesca Schiavone the most-watched sporting event in China this year, local media reported on Friday.

Li’s defeat of the Italian defending champion in three sets at Roland Garros in Paris to become the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles tennis title drew almost twice as many as the 60 million Chinese viewers who watched Li lose the Australian Open to Kim Clijsters in January, the English-language China Daily reported.

State-run broadcaster China Central Television aired the match at 9pm local time on Saturday on two channels.

By Sunday morning, Li, 28, was all over the Chinese media in a storm of attention that persists, with many Chinese telling local media they were surprised by the $1.7 million in prize money Li won.

China, with its population of 1.3 billion, has the largest television audience in the world: 95% of the country’s households have at least one TV.

According to the China Tennis Association, 30 million Chinese now are regular players of tennis, up sharply from just 2 million in 2005, China Daily reported.

Li, who is represented by IMG and endorses Nike, Rolex and Haagen-Dazs will next play tennis on her home turf in October at the China Open in Beijing.

CCTV has the broadcast rights to all the tennis Grand Slam events except Wimbledon.