Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Curse of the Golden Flower

What I do not give, you must never take by force.

Kiki Mladenovic stuck to the script today at the French Open, winning her first round by letting her opponent, 2011 champion Li Na, give her the opportunity, over and over. It wasn't pretty. Mladenovic, for all her doubles strength and elegance, has yet to figure out a winning plan for singles. No worries--just get Li on an "off" day--and this was as "off" a day as the Chinese star was likely to have.

Early on, it was obvious that the 2nd seed was "somewhere else." She should have been destroying Mladenovic's second serves--most of her first serves, too--but instead, the Frenchwoman took the first set 7-5. Li won the second set 6-3, and the general assumption, I'm sure, was that she would cruise through the third. She did--but not in a good way. She won one game.

What can you say, other than maybe "Li Na makes Hana Mandlikova look like Chris Evert."

According to coach Carlos Rodriguez, most of Li's down side comes from a lack of self-belief instilled in her by the "bad parenting" of the Chinese federation. I find that quite credible. But if Rodriguez's coaching hasn't produced a better result, perhaps there's someone else who can help? Or is it just that--in addition to her other demons--clay is something Li doesn't want in her professional life?

Meanwhile, the young Frenchwoman of whom much was expected returned to her old anxious ways. Caroline Garcia never had a chance against Ana Ivanovic, who beat her easily in straight sets. Just when you think a player has put certain behaviors and mindsets behind her, along comes a really big occasion, and it's often accompanied by regression. That's human, and that's what happened to Garcia. Better luck next time.

While all this emotional content was being processed, Simona Halep practically ran over Alisa Kleybanova, who just escaped a double bagel. Sloane Stephens got her first victory over Peng Shuai, who was unable to convert a set point in the second set, and lost 4-6, 6-7. Former world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki went out to Yanina Wickmayer, Ula Radwanska retired with an ankle injury, and Sara Errani had to go three sets to beat Madison Keys. Errani's countrywoman, Camila Giorgi, defeated Bojana Jovanovski.

Li's first round defeat comes a day after Stan Wawrinka's first round defeat, making this the first time in history that both the female and male Australian Open champions are out in the first round of the French Open.

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