Zheng Jie Inspired By Li Na's Historic WinMelbourne, Australia , Jan 21: For China's other top tennis players, Li Na's breakthrough win at the French Open last year is a source of inspiration. If she can do it, they can do it,
Melbourne, Australia , Jan 21: For China's other top tennis players, Li Na's breakthrough win at the French Open last year is a source of inspiration. If she can do it, they can do it, too.
Zheng Jie, a former semifinalist at the Australian Open, joined Li in the fourth round on Saturday with a dominating 6-3, 6-3 victory over ninth-seeded Marion Bartoli of France.
She said Li's win at Roland Garros last year -- along with her march to the Australian Open final before that -- not only encouraged more Chinese children to take up the sport, but made her believe she could capture a major, as well.
"A lot of years ago we practiced together," Zheng said of Li. "We (were) never thinking we can win singles Grand Slam. I think (her win) gives me more confidence."
Zheng has been close before. She and Li both made the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2010 -- the first time any Chinese player had advanced that far in Melbourne. She also made the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2008.
Zheng has been ranked as high as No. 15, but she struggled last year after coming back from wrist surgery. Feeling fit again, she's off to a quick start in 2012, winning an Australian Open tuneup event in Auckland, New Zealand.
She also picked up some new dance moves in Auckland, performing rapper Jay-Z's signature shoulder-brushing move from the single "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" in a video for the tournament website.
Asked on Saturday if she's become a hip hop fan, she laughed. "Oh, I think this not my style," she said. "After my video, every player (who) watch me don't say hello, (they) say 'Yo, yo."'
NOT MANY HAPPY RETURNS: The best part of Nicolas Mahut's 30th birthday came long after he walked off Rod Laver Arena.
At his post-match news conference, tournament organizers presented him with a strawberry-topped birthday cake, which was a minor consolation for his lopsided -- but injury-related -- 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 loss to No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic in the third round.
Mahut injured a tendon in his left leg during the match and was wearing a brace at his news conference. He said the only reason he finished the match was because Saturday's first contest at Rod Laver Arena ended abruptly when Maria Kirilenko walked off after a set with a leg injury, gifting the victory to Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
The next match, Maria Sharapova's 6-1, 6-2 win over Angelique Kerber, wasn't much of a crowd-pleaser, either.
"There were a lot of people in the stadium and they paid good money for their tickets," Mahut said. "So I figured I owed it to them to try to continue."
Djokovic was impressed by Mahut's commitment.
"I think most of the people expected him to just retire the match and walk out of the court," Djokovic said. "But he managed to stay. So all the credit for him, and happy birthday."
The crowd was firmly behind Mahut, cheering loudly anytime he picked up a few points in a row.
Mahut saluted them in return. When he won his first game of the match -- seven games in -- he walked back to the service line with his arms outstretched, soaking up the applause with a smile on his face.
WHAT A CORKER: Perhaps it had to do with watching neighbor Spain rack up all the tennis accolades over the years.
Frederico Gil put his native Portugal on the tennis map by reaching the third round of the Australian Open -- the best result ever for a Portuguese man at a Grand Slam. He fell to former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Saturday, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.
"For my country, it's a big result," he said. "It's the first time, but at the same time, I always felt that it was something possible so I always worked and dreamed to be here.
"I know the people are happy about the result and I feel great that it's me doing this."
It wasn't Gil's first milestone for Portugal. In 2010, he became the first Portuguese man to reach an ATP Tour final -- in his native Portugal -- and last year reached the highest ranking ever by a Portuguese man at No. 62. (He was later passed by countryman Rui Machado, who hit a career-high ranking of 59.)
Gil was just sorry he didn't put on a better show for the fans back home on Saturday. "I know a lot of friends and fans, they were all watching today. I didn't play my best match, but it happens."