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.

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.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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