PARIS, France - Blasting winners from all over the court, a very aggressive Bethanie Mattek-Sands overpowered Li Na in the second round of Roland Garros on Thursday, just the latest in a string of impressive results from the American veteran as she storms back up the rankings this season.
The No.6-seeded Li looked in control early on, reeling off the first four games right out of the blocks, but it wasn't long before Mattek-Sands announced herself, winning four games of her own from there to draw even, 4-all. Li would end up winning the set but a different tone was already set and through drizzles and full-on rain delays it was Mattek-Sands who stepped up and stepped in, firing 32 winners - including 25 in the second and third sets combined - to prevail over the Chinese, 57 63 62.
"That's one of the best wins of my career," an elated Mattek-Sands said. "I knew she wasn't going to give it to me. She's a champion, and I had to play some of my best tennis ever to beat her.
"What I remember from the last couple times I played with her, she plays inside the court. She takes the balls on the rise. It always seems she's putting pressure on you. So I was ready for her to do that today, and I wanted to give it back to her, because that's my game, too. So it was kind of a battle of who can take control of that middle court. I didn't really do it in Stuttgart; I was able to do it today."
Mattek-Sands has been coming full circle as of late after a difficult 2012, in which she struggled with a variety of injuries - she even fell out of the Top 200 in early 2013. But with some very impressive results - the finals of Kuala Lumpur, the semifinals of Stuttgart - the former No.30 made her way back to No.67 coming into Roland Garros, and it seems she'll continue on that path moving forward now.
"It's a big thing that I'm healthy," Mattek-Sands said. "I think that was always a tough one in the past. Even if I did have good matches in the past couple years, it was tough to build on my momentum because I would get hurt pretty often. But now I'm feeling healthy. I'm more mentally focused on the court. It's a combination of also having a good game plan - I'm an aggressive player and I'm going to go out there and play my game, win or lose. It has all helped me play better tennis this year."
The American wouldn't say it's her biggest win - and it's for a reason. "Obviously I beat Francesca, who also won the French Open, so that's why I say this is one of my biggest wins. At a Grand Slam it's my biggest win. And I'm really proud of myself that I was able to close the match out the way I did."
Li came into the tournament as one of the favorites - she was a champion here in 2011, and was also a finalist at the last Grand Slam, the Australian Open this year. But some scratchy results in the European clay court lead-up season - early exits in both Madrid and Rome - may have been a sign.
"It was very tough conditions, coming back to the court three times, but for both of us it was the same," Li said. "I was surprised with the way she was playing, the way she was hitting the ball - I have to say well done to her, and good luck to her in the next round. She played really well today."
Shvedova was the Cinderella story of last year's French Open, making the quarterfinals after a very injury-riddled year and a half on the tour. Coincidentally, she took Li out along the way.