If ever there was conclusive proof that the mainstream tennis world was taking Chinese players more seriously, it came on the sun-drenched first Wednesday of the US Open. In the compact seating of court 13 at Flushing Meadows watching the second-round match between Li Na and Italy's Sara Errani was Richard Williams, father and coach of the Williams sisters. After Li's shock victory over Venus at the Beijing Olympics, the Williams patriarch wanted to see first-hand the razor-sharp skills of China's top singles player even though both his daughters were on the other side of the draw. 'He didn't make it to Beijing so it was the first time that Richard had watched Li,' said US tennis writer, Richard Kent. 'He arrived with his entourage during the first set and left at the end of the match very impressed.' Two hours later on court 11, Zheng Jie's three-set battle against Annabel Medina Garrigues, of Spain, attracted more attention than an early-round match involving two non-Americans might normally. In between changeovers, a group of playful American spectators joined in the chant of 'Zheng Jie, Jia You! (Come On!)', started by Chinese fans of the Olympic bronze-medallist. 'After Beijing, people know more about China and maybe a little more about me, too,' said Zheng who lost a hard-fought match against Jelena Jankovic in the third round on Friday at Flushing Meadows. At this year's US Open, China had five women in the singles competition, more than established tennis nations like Australia, Germany and Japan and only one fewer than superpower Spain. And they feel right at home. Instead of making the 30-minute journey each day from Manhattan, they're staying less than 2km away in the town of Flushing - the Chinatown of Queens - with a wide choice of regional cuisines. With barely 24 hours separating the start of the US Open and the end of the Olympics, most of the Chinese players had little time to reflect on their Beijing achievements before flying out for the final grand slam of the year. Li, who beat former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova as well as Venus on the way to the Olympics semi-finals, took a 10-hour train ride to her home town of Hubei to visit her mother for two days at the end of the tennis competition. 'She was too nervous to actually come and watch me play so I wanted to go because I hadn't seen her for six months,' she said. 'But then I had to take another long train ride back to Beijing to catch a flight to New York.' Li's Beijing success was remarkable given that she underwent major knee surgery in Germany at the end of March and only returned to the circuit in June after a three-month lay-off. She played just two grass-court tournaments ahead of the Olympics after being forced to cancel other proposed warm-up events when her freshly rehabbed knee swelled up. 'Going into Beijing, I didn't feel much pressure because I hadn't been playing much,' she said. 'I told myself: 'You've got nothing to lose'.' Even considering her impressive form before knee and rib injuries limited her to a handful tour stops in the previous 12 months, Li's singles' campaign went better than anyone could have expected. Given little chance in her first-round match again world number three Kuznetsova, she survived a tough first-set tiebreak on the way to a 7-6, 6-4 success. Victories over Japan's Ayumi Morita and Kaia Kanepi followed before slaying the mighty Williams, the reigning Wimbledon champion, in the quarter-finals, overcoming a 1-4 first set deficit before winning 7-5, 7-5. Li described the scene at the Beijing Olympic Green Tennis Court as dreamlike when she realised that she'd pulled off the biggest upset of her career. 'After the match, all the fans were calling out my name,' she said. 'I was pinching my legs, to see if it was true or not. I told myself: 'Don't cry, don't cry'. I was so excited.' The next day, an exhausted Li lost her semi-final to Roland Garros runner-up, Dinara Safina, and then missed out on a medal when beaten by another Russian, Vera Zvonareva, to finish fourth overall. Li, a two-time WTA tour winner who rose to a career-high ranking of number 16 in the world in January last year, said she is now targeting a spot in the top 10 by the end of the year and a possible spot in the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Qatar in November. As for Zheng Jie, her rise in singles - including her run to July's Wimbledon semi-finals that elevated her from 133 to 40 in the rankings - leaves her with the minor dilemma of where to focus her career. She said she doesn't want to neglect her doubles partnership with Yan Zi that saw them win a bronze medal in Beijing. 'This is a tough question for me because my partner is my best friend,' she said. According to Zheng, the Beijing Olympics will be a more important stepping stone for tennis than the 2004 Athens Games where Sun Tiantian and Li Ting won the gold medal in the women's doubles. 'A few years ago when we played tournaments in Beijing, I felt that some people didn't really understand tennis, but now it's changed a lot,' she said. 'During these past four years, Chinese tennis has seen a big change. China has lot of good players now.' The sport's growth means that an estimated six million Chinese are now playing tennis at some level. And yet, without a player ranked inside the top 400, the country's male contingent is still lagging behind.