Li, China beat Germany, reach Fed Cup world group

BEIJING -- Li Na blasted China to another
milestone on their march to power status in women's tennis when
she secured her country a place in the Fed Cup elite for the
first time on Sunday.

The world No. 22 found her best form just when she
needed to in a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Germany's Kathrin Woerle,
which gave China an unassailable 3-0 lead in their World Group
playoff at the Beijing International Tennis Centre.

China will
now play in the eight-team World Group in 2007, while twice Fed
Cup champions Germany were relegated to the second tier of the
women's international team competition.

The victory was another first in a breakthrough year in
which Li became the first Chinese player to reach the singles
quarterfinals at a grand slam, and Zheng Jie and Yan Zi
secured the country's first major titles in the women's doubles
at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

"It's much easier playing at home," Li told reporters.
"Today I could feel a great number of people behind me,
supporting and encouraging me."

Germany was weakened by the absence of injured world
No. 16 Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Both Woerle and Kristian Barrois, who lost to Li in the
opening singles match on Saturday, were making their debuts for
the country.

Brimming with confidence after reaching the last eight at
Wimbledon this month, Li raced into a 3-0 lead in the first set
before Woerle found her feet sufficiently to take advantage of
her opponent's frequent mistakes and break back.

"The way the German girls played was a little strange to
me," Li added. "I wasn't as concentrated as I was yesterday."

She bided her time, though, and won the set with another
break in the 12th game when her opponent sent a forehand long.

Woerle showed great spirit and won another break in the
fifth game of the second set but again Li saved her best for
when it really mattered.

At two set points down, the 23-year-old found another gear
and rode out of trouble on the back of some fierce forehands
and equally unplayable backhands, securing China's historic
progress with her 31st winner.

"It was my first time playing a top 30 player," Woerle
said. "When I was serving for the second set, she gave me no
chance at all on three of the points.

"I think she's going to be at the top for a while."

With the tie settled, Olympic doubles champion Sun Tiantian
stood in for Zheng in the final singles match and lost 4-6, 6-3,
6-3 to Tatiana Malek.

Zheng and Yan beat Malek and Jasmin Woehr 6-3, 6-4 in the
final match.

"Even though my players were tired and not at their best
I'm very satisfied with their performances and how they fought
for their country," China's coach Jiang Hongwei said.