Day 11 of the Australian Open brought frustrating news to the loyal Sharapova fans when she suffered a resounding defeat (6-2, 6-2) in the hands of Li Na, the 30-year old, sixth seeded player from China.
Days before Sharapova mounted a seemingly unstoppable quest as she routed and bullied weaker opponents. Before she bumped on the Chinese wall (or great wall of China?) I had the feeling that Sharapova was impressive and showing great tennis all the way. Yes, in fact, she is. There was much improvement in her serve, ground strokes and cross court shots, but Li Na showed she is the better and more improved player.
Li Na sent a wayward Maria Sharapova crashing out of the Australian Open semi-finals on Thursday and says there will be no repeat of her capitulation to Kim Clijsters in the 2011 Melbourne Park final.
The win will set up for Li Na her second title shot at Melbourne Park against defending champion Victoria Azarenka. Two years ago (in 2011), Li was in the box seat to beat Clijsters after taking the first set, but crumbled under the pressure and took her frustrations out on Chinese fans.
“(In) 2011, (the) first time to the grand slam final, I was a little bit shocked because I didn’t know what I should do,” Li told reporters.
“Also no one told me what I should do on the court. But this time I’ve got more experience, so I think I should be better.”
The stinging loss to Clijsters spurred Li to win her sole major title at Roland Garros (French Open) a few months later, but the Chinese had endured more than 18 months in the grand slam wilderness until her stunning revival in Melbourne.
Much of Li’s struggles have been between the ears, struggling to deal with the heightened expectations from her home country of 1.3 billion people, but few nerves were on display as the sixth seed demolished Sharapova in one hour and 33 minutes in 34 Celsius (93F) heat.
Sharapova had charged into the semi-final like a freight train, conceding only nine games in the tournament and bullying a succession of weaker opponents. But Li quickly took the wind out of her sails, breaking Sharapova three times to wrap up the first set, then weathered a fierce challenge on her own serve in the second before coolly closing out the second match-point when the Russian found the net (credits: yahoo sports, phil.).
Well, tennis is quite unpredictable sometimes. Incidentally, the only surprise the sport can give is an upset win in addition to new improved players. Sloane Stephens (of the United States) cannot be ignored by any sportswriter doing a coverage of the Melbourne event this year. If there is an award for most improved player, she will handily get that trophy.
Yes, Stephens lost to the mighty Azarenka, but she leaves Melbourne like a Champion.