Li Na has arrived.
Not to suggest that Li is not already a hot commodity in the tennis world, but her victory over Dominika Cibulkova in the final at the 2014 Australia Open will be the trigger for her as she becomes the sport's next big thing.
Li's third time in the final in Melbourne since 2011, the 7-6 (3), 6-0 victory was her second major title win, with her other triumph a victory at the 2011 French Open.
Not only is Li set to move up to No. 3 in the world and overtake Maria Sharapova (who lost to Cibulkova in the fourth round), she is simply a breath of fresh air to an overall sporting scene that more often than not habitually focuses on the negatives.
For example, Li has a tendency to transform into a stand-up comedian in front of an audience, as she did after her big win. She used the scene to thank her husband in a playful manner and her supporting cast for making her rich:
Li does not take herself too seriously, but she should as the first women's competitor from China to win a Grand Slam. She has been the ambassador for the sport there for years, and as Chris Evert explained in Time last year, she has played a critical role in the growth of the sport as a result:
Tennis has exploded in China. The country now has some 15 million tennis players; 116 million people watched Li win the French Open. That kind of exposure is crucial to our sport, and it never would have happened without Li.
This popularity, thanks to her unique demeanor and approach on the court and off, is not limited to casual fans discovering the sport. Even Cibulkova was happy for Li, despite being on the losing end of the outcome in the final, as captured by Melissa Isaacson of ESPNW:
"I have to say [Li's] one of the nicest players on tour. I really like her. I think everybody likes her sense of humor. She's a great player and a grand champion."
This makes Li a marketable commodity, hence the Nike logo she boasts in each match. Even outside of China, her personality and post-win speech that has since gone viral will bring droves of new fans to the sport.
Of course, as her second Grand Slam illustrates, Li is quite dominant on the court despite being 31 years old. While a bit of a late bloomer as far as big tournaments are concerned, Li was able to take advantage of the top seeds falling around her and capitalize against a young opponent.
Li's backhand is one of the best in the sport, which she expertly executed to go up 30-0 before she used just one of her championship points to bring home the title.
That backhand, which is complemented by an aggressive style at the net, is the main point in Li's game that puts her in the same league with Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams—and sees her on solid ground with any of the bunch in a head-to-head scenario.
Fans unfamiliar with Li should get to know her in a hurry. The sport's next big star is not going anywhere for quite some time, and she is exactly what it needs.
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