By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Li Na became the first Chinese player to reach the semi-finals of a U.S. Open when she beat Russia's Ekaterina Makarova 6-4 6-7(5) 6-2 in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Li, seeded fifth at Flushing Meadows, reeled off the last four games to seal victory after nearly two-and-a-half hours at Arthur Ashe Stadium, raising both fists in the air as the New York crowd roared its approval.
"This is my first time in the semi-finals so I'm very proud of myself," Li, already the only player from the world's most populous country to win a grand slam singles title, said in a courtside interview.
"After losing the second set, I was feeling a little bit sad ... so I just told myself to play point by point and try my best."
Li's semi-final opponent will be either world number one Serena Williams or Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro after they were scheduled to meet in Tuesday's feature night match.
The 31-year-old Li was not at her absolute best against the left-handed Makarova as both women struggled in the gusting winds.
Li had eight double faults and 42 unforced errors but was too street-wise for her opponent when it really mattered.
However, the Chinese world number six was not pleased with the way she played.
"I'm not so happy. Today is the first time I was feeling so nervous. (From the) start of the match until end of the match," said Li.
"But I was happy because at least I was fighting a lot on the court. Even if I didn't play my best tennis, still fought and still in the tournament."
Li has been at the forefront of China's rise in women's tennis. Although Zheng Jie was the first Chinese player to reach a semi-final, making the last four at Wimbledon in 2008 and the Australian Open in 2010, Li has enjoyed greater success.
In 2011, she became the first Chinese to make a grand slam final when she finished runner-up in Australia.
A few months later, she won the French Open, and earlier this year she made another final Down Under.
Asked what it meant to her to be the first Chinese to reach a U.S. Open semi-final, Li just smiled. "You know, I always try to be the first one."
(Editing by Frank Pingue/Mark Lamport-Stokes)