Li Na fought valiantly during her Wimbledon quarter-final matchup against Agnieszka Radwanska. [Photo: sports.sina.com.cn]
By Stuart Wiggin
Li Na apparently achieved her target for this year's Wimbledon tournament by reaching the quarter-finals. She failed to progress to the final four after losing to fourth-seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-2. The loss will be disappointing, especially as Li and Radwanska were the two highest seeds left in the women's tournament. However, there is certainly no shame in losing to last year's Wimbledon runner-up but one can't help but think what an excellent opportunity Li would have had in terms of winning this year's tournament if she had reached the semi-finals.
Following her defeat, Li has expressed no regret in the way she went about this year's tournament, stating that she met the goals set for her by coach, Carlos Rodriguez. As Li herself commented, "It was pretty good, really. At least better than the last two years. And also I proved a new thing,proved so many things on the court." Indeed, after two second round exits over the last two years, a quarter-final appearance was a marked improvement, matching her efforts from 2006 and 2010; when she also reached the Wimbledon quarter final stage.
But this year, Li Na's performance in defeat was almost as good as that of her opponent who progressed to the semi-final. Rodriguez had instructed Li to utilize more net play, a tactic she rarely used in the past. Her ability to take instruction and add new elements to her game at the age of 31 were evident from the match-stats, which revealed that Li came to the net 71 times. Former US Open quarter-finalist Barbara Schett commented on BBC Radio 5 Live, "It was unbelievable how aggressive Li was playing at the end. But Radwanska in the third set really convinced me the way she was winning her points."
Li's aggression, determination and perseverance led to 8 match points during the final set, as she pushed Radwanska to the very limits. The former coach of British tennis player Tim Henman, David Felgate commented that it was the best women's match of the tournament by far. Ultimately, Radwanska dominated the final set and was impressive in her technical play with the only criticism being that her power was lacking.
Radwanska, who complained of fatigue in her legs which were heavily taped throughout the match, celebrated in glorious fashion as she now faces possibly her best chance of winning Wimbledon; something that Li would have been well aware of considering the players who are left in the tournament. It is fair to say that Li should be satisfied with her efforts this year, but one bad judgment call may leave a lingering taste in Li Na's mouth as she winds down over the coming weeks. Li was mightily unlucky to have a decision go against her in the first set on set point, as she chose not to challenge a decision which saw her serve called out, when it was actually in.
Despite this, at times Li did ride her luck, which made for an exciting game of tennis as the Li's power came up against the technical prowess of Radwanska. 31 year old Li, who probably benefited as a result of the breaks in play, will have endeared herself to the Chinese public even more so after such a gutsy performance. Long gone are the memories of a tantrum-prone star who once complained about being selected to represent China in the doubles tournament at the London 2012 Olympics. Instead, fans will most likely remember her battling scenes from Melbourne and Wimbledon, during which she showed tremendous amounts of heart. Her appearance on the cover of TIME magazine as one of the world's most influential people in the world is starting to make sense even to the most casual observers of the sport of tennis.
It's clear that Li's on-court antics not only make for an amazing spectacle, they also set an incredible standard for young fans to follow. What's more, they can expect to see a new side to Li Na as she continues to utilize her new-found skills at the net. As Li stated after her quarter-final match, "At least now we have a job to do, me and Carlos. We know what we should do for the next step."