Friday, January 14, 2011

Li wins her first Premier title in Sydney

Li Na has not had an easy pro tennis career. She left the tour for a long time because she was tired of being told what to do by the Chinese Tennis Federation. When she returned, she did it on her terms (and, in fact, changed the entire climate of Chinese tennis for women), but then she was knocked down over and over by a series of significant injuries that kept her off the courts for months at a time.

And then there was the problem with nerves. Going into the 2011 season, the Chinese number 1 held three titles, all of them from International tournaments (and one, 2008 Gold Coast, dramatically attained immediately after she returned from a very long injury layoff). It wasn't that Li didn't get to the deep part of Premier tournaments and majors; it was that her nerves would visibly betray her, and could not get past semifinals. In fact, Li's most memorable run occurred last year at the Australian Open, when she engaged in a 6-7, 6-7 thriller with eventual winner Serena Williams.

In last night's Sydney final, world number 3 Kim Clijsters went up to a quick 5-0 lead, but then Li returned the favor by winning five games in a row. The set went to a tiebreak, and Clijsters immediately went up a mini-break at 3-1. All the points after that were Li's, though. The 8th seed won the tiebreak by making six straight points, then won the second set 6-3.

Li's victory means that she is not only the first Chinese woman to crack the top 10 (she is currently number 11), and one of the first two Chinese women (Zheng Jie made it to the Melbourne semifinals last year, too) to get to the semifinals of the Australian Open--she is also the first Chinese woman to win a Premier tournament. For whatever reason, Li's forehand is often left out of conversations about good forehands, but fans have seen this week just what the Sydney champion can do with it. One hopes that the confidence factor will serve as a settling agent for the talented Li's match anxiety.

Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, the unseeded but always dangerous Czech pair, won the doubles title by defeating 3rd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik 4-6, 6-4, 10-7.

Meanwhile, the rain stopped (sometimes) in Hobart, and some players have had to play two matches a day in order to catch up. 6th seed Jarmila Groth and Bethanie Mattek-Sands will compete in the singles final. Groth defeated Klara Zakopalova, and Mattek-Sands defeated Peng Shuai.


ted said...

Zheng Zie first got to a semi of a Grand Slam on her own and prior to Li Na (Wimbeldon 2008)

Diane said...

Wow. I completely forgot about that. She lost to Serena. Thanks, Ted.

Anonymous said...

Li's score with Serena last year was 6-7, 6-7, she did beat Venus 4-6 7-6, 7-5 or something

Diane said...

I meant to put both of the scores in, and one got left out--scores got swapped. Thanks for catching it; this seems to be a problematic post!

Sunny nine said...

I have always enjoyed Li's forehand. I thought it was a pretty great one like Ivanovic's is also.