Na Li the 1st Chinese Woman to Reach a Grand Slam Singles Final – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Rafa Derailed

Rafael Nadal’s quest for a fourth straight major ended with a whimper as he was easily dismissed in straight sets by compatriot David Ferrer. While the opening games of the match seemed to indicate some stellar tennis was ahead, it was ultimately tainted by an injury Nadal developed in the second or third game. But Nadal fans shouldn’t despair. He left the Aussie Open under more dire circumstances last year and went on to have the season of his career. And in the end, the greatest amount of credit has to go to David Ferrer. From the first ball, he looked sharp, and there’s no doubt that even against a healthy Nadal, Ferrer was in with a fighter’s chance to cause the upset. Even more impressive was Ferrer’s ability to stay the course when it became apparent his opponent was injured – something that can often throw off a player’s game. So congratulations to David Ferrer on what has been a phenomenal start to his 2011 season.

Na Li

Comeback Cut Short

In one of the more stunning and sad pieces of news this week, Justine Henin announced her permanent retirement from professional tennis. The Belgian was forced into the decision by the elbow injury that she sustained at last year’s Wimbledon, which she has had to accept will never allow her to play at her best. Looking back, few could have foreseen that when she took that dive on the grass lawns of the All England Club – traditionally the best surface for such risks – it would have such a devastating effect. Her run to the finals of the Australian Open last year showed early promise of what she was still capable of, and her variety and fighting spirit will be greatly missed. Many fans wish her all the best, and no doubt she’ll still find plenty of ways to give to the sport for years to come.

Never Say Die

There have been a number of entertaining and tight matches over the course of the opening major of 2011, but certainly the match of the tournament has to be the 4:44 match contested by Svetlana Kutznetsova and Francesca Schiavone. In what turned out to be the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history, the two competitors saved their best for the last set. The cliché would say that it was a shame someone had to lose, and that’s true. But how great was Schiavone to find a way to cross the finish line? She came back from consecutive match points down on more than one occasion, and she overcame the disappointment of failing to serve it out. Her heart, personality, and refusal to fold should endear her to fans everywhere, and as one of the tour’s veterans, she did an excellent job of rebounding to push Caroline Wozniaki to three sets in her following match. Another major is a big ask, but keep your eye on Schiavone. Lightening may just strike twice.

Chinese Breakthrough

Congratulations to Na Li who saved a match point to come back from the brink against top seed Caroline Wozniaki in the semifinals of the Aussie Open. The win earned Na Li the distinction of becoming the first Chinese woman to contest a Grand Slam singles final. Her opponent in the final will be the same woman she stunned less than a month ago for the Sydney title, Kim Clijsters. Despite Li’s recent good fortune against the Belgian, there’s little doubt that with three Grand Slam singles titles already under her belt, Clijsters will still be the heavy favorite. Assuming that nerves don’t overcome Li, it should be an entertaining and hard-hitting match. And win or lose, expect Li to give an entertaining speech when it’s all said and done, as her post-match interviews have provided some of the most entertaining moments of these championships.

Turning of the Page?

With Djokovic’s win over Federer in the semifinals, the murmurs are starting that perhaps a changing of the guard is afoot. After all, his win marks the first time since 2003 that Federer can’t claim to be the reigning champion of at least one major. Federer’s loss also means that for just the third time since 2005, a Grand Slam men’s singles final will be contested by two players who aren’t named Federer or Rafael Nadal. Throw in renewed concerns surrounding how much more pounding Nadal’s body can take with his style of play, and signs would seem to indicate that the time may be ripe for players like Djokovic, Murray, Soderling and others to start moving to the front of the line. But don’t count out Nadal’s and Federer’s major chances yet. Nadal may bounce back from injury as he’s often done in the past. And there’s no shame in Federer losing to No. 3 Novak Djokovic. Both men are still going to be the top favorites at virtually every tournament they enter – perhaps just not heavy favorites. If anything, this year’s opening major would seem to signal a few more shakeups at the top of the game, and it’s going to be a very interesting season.