(CNN) -- China's Li Na became the first Asian tennis player to win a grand slam singles title as she defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone in the final of the French Open on Saturday.
The 29-year-old triumphed 6-4 7-6 (7-0) against the Italian, having been the first player from her country to reach the final of the clay-court tournament.
The victory will push her up to a career-high fourth in the world rankings, equaling the best by an Asian player set by Japan's Kimiko Date Krumm back in 1995.
"I was nervous but I didn't want to show my opponent. I think everyone in China will be so excited," she told reporters. "I got a text message from my friend saying they were crying in China because they saw the national flag coming up.
"Today is a dream come true. When I was a young player I always wanted to be a Grand Slam champion. Here someone said I was getting old -- it's not easy for the old woman's dream to come true! Not many players can win a grand slam.""
Li had lost in her only other grand slam final appearance, when she also made history by reaching the title match at January's Australian Open, but this time she showed none of the nerves on display in that defeat by Kim Clijsters.
She wrapped up the first set in only 39 minutes, hitting 15 winners to three by Schiavone as her aggressive tactics from the back of the court paid off -- mirrored by her 10 unforced errors to five.
Li led 4-2 in the second set and appeared poised for an easy victory, but she faltered in the seventh game as the guileful Schiavone found her way back into the match.
The 30-year-old had two chances to level the match against Li's serve, at 5-4 and 6-5, but both times her Chinese opponent fought back as the two played out some stunning rallies.
Schiavone had big support in the crowd at Roland Garros after beating home hope Marion Bartoli in the semifinals, but Li -- who earlier eliminated favorites Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka -- powered through the tie-break without conceding a point.
"She played well. I couldn't push her from the baseline," Schiavone said. "Then we were closer. One has to lose, one has to win. She deserved to win."
Schiavone beat Li in the third round in Paris last year, but was impressed by her opponent's improvement since then.
"She runs much more. Now she can hit one or two shots more. That is a big advantage on the clay," Schiavone said.
"I can imagine many people in China were watching this and will watch more now. I think it's also important for them to know clay courts over there -- I think they just have hard courts. This can be a good start for them."
It was China's first triumph at a grand slam since 2006, when Yan Zi and Zheng Jie won the women's doubles titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Canada's Daniel Nestor won the French Open men's doubles title on Saturday.
The second seeds, who have won 10 grand slam crowns between them with other doubles partners, triumphed 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-4 win over Colombia's Juan Sebastian Cabal and Eduardo Schwank of Argentina.