Li Na is last Asian standing at French Open

Defending champion Li Na of China overcame a slow start to reach the French Open last 16 on Saturday with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over American youngster Christina McHale.

Seventh-seeded Li is now the last Asian standing in singles competition at Roland Garros after her compatriot Peng Shuai was crushed by Russian second seed Maria Sharapova.

Li will face Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova for a place in the quarter-finals after a momentary scare in the match against McHale.

"She's a very dangerous player," said the 30-year-old Li, admitting she let the American, 10 years her junior, dictate the play in the first set.

Li, who reached a career-high world number four a year ago, said she had to rely on her experience to prevail over the 36th-ranked American, who had fallen in the first round at Roland Garros in 2010 and 2011.

Li started out cold and struggled with her first serve and backhand in the first set, suffering two breaks when she drove the ball on both occasions into the net.

She finally found her form and began to play "my way" in the second set, breaking McHale in the fourth game with a well-timed drop shot and earning another break in the eighth game by forcing her opponent into errors.

The third set was all Li, who broke McHale twice and finished the match with a clean forehand winner after nearly two hours of play.

Age was in Li's favour the longer the match lasted, giving the Chinese a chance to try out a variety of shots to find gaps in McHale's game as they played in bright sunshine at Suzanne Lenglen court.

"I was happy I could win the match today because I have more experience," Li said.

When Li won her first Gland Slam at Roland Garros in 2011 -- also the first singles Grand Slam trophy for any Asian -- she became at 29 the fifth oldest first-time women singles champion in the Open era.

As Li played McHale in Paris, French Open organisers announced the opening of a nine-day "Roland Garros in Beijing" festival in the Chinese capital to promote clay court tennis.

Roland Garros and its Parisian atmosphere have been recreated in a Beijing shopping district, complete with a real clay court, benches, streetlights and evening broadcasts of French Open matches, a press statement said.

"I'm very pleased that a country like China follows our prestigious tournament," said Jean Gachassin, president of the French Tennis Federation.

"For us, it's an extraordinary opportunity to promote clay court tennis. I'd like to heartily thank the Chinese Tennis Federation for welcoming us on their home soil for this fabulous event."

China's hopes of having two women in the final 16 at Roland Garros were dashed after Li's win when Peng was outclassed by Sharapova, who was making a bid for the only Grand Slam trophy she has not lifted.

"She's a really good player, very strong," Peng said after the match, marvelling at Sharapova's supreme confidence on clay.

Peng, the 2010 Asian Games singles gold medalist, remained in contention with partner Zheng Jie for the women's doubles title.

"I will keep going and try to do my very best," Peng said.

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