French Open Contenders: Li Na
Published May 20, 2014 12:15
She may not have won any clay court titles in the lead-up, but her phenomenal season in general - as well as the fact that she's captured the biggest clay court title there is - puts Li Na as a definite contender for the second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, which is just days away.
Three years ago, Li - who had become Asia's first Grand Slam finalist just a few months before at the Australian Open - made an amazing run to her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and Asia's first Grand Slam title, beating four Top 10 players in a row the last four rounds - Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Francesca Schiavone. And after rallying from 3-0 down in the third set against Kvitova, she took out all the others in straight sets - and only going to one tie-break, too.
The next few years at Roland Garros weren't so peachy for Li. She fell to Yaroslava Shvedova in the fourth round of her title defense in 2012, and the going got even tougher in 2013, as she was bundled out by Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round, and emphatically in the end - 6-2 in the third set.
Shortly after that early loss to Mattek-Sands, Li contemplated retiring from the sport. But she regrouped and pushed forward, and not many players have played as well as she has since then - she has reached the quarterfinals or better at 13 of 14 tournaments since then, including all three of the majors since then, and has risen from No.6 to No.2 on the WTA Rankings in that 11-month span too.
She's also No.1 on the Road To Singapore leaderboard this year - she's done more than anyone in 2014, including winning the only other Grand Slam held so far in 2014, the Australian Open in January.
Her clay court season hasn't brought her any titles - she had to pull out of Stuttgart with a knee injury, and she fell in the quarterfinals of Madrid and Rome, but the two losses came against two of the hottest players out there, Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani, and she pushed them very close indeed.
Can Li keep her consistency and inspired play on the biggest stages going on the terre battue?
"I'm feeling pretty good," Li said during her run to the quarterfinals of Rome last week. "I'm playing some high quality matches. And I'm feeling pretty loose - I'm just going to do my best out there."
"I think tennis is very, very tough now," Li commented. "Everyone is pretty close and everyone has a chance. The most important thing for all of us now is to stay healthy on the court. You can't just focus on every tournament - you have to plan a smart schedule and then focus on every match."