Li Na: The “Nail” in Sharapova’s Australian Open Coffin

James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.

By James Crabtree

MELBOURNE — Conflicting with popular opinion The Great Wall of China is alive, travels extensively and has a broad sense of humour.

Maria Sharapova met the wall Thursday, and attempted to use all her artillery to beat it. In fact, Li Na defence was better than just a wall. The Russian champion, who is known to hit the ball harder than anyone, only served to hit something that would be absorbed then sent back with interest.

Sharapova, perhaps relishing her fortune and thinking towards a final that wouldn’t include Serena Williams, started horribly. The first points on Sharapova’s serve went to Na as back to back double faults. In contrast Li Na started reliably, not giving any points away. The next few games were close and if you weren’t paying attention you wouldn’t have realised that Na had raced out to a 4-1 lead.

This was the wrong script. Sharapova, who had barely lost a game all tournaments, was now losing games. In contrast Li Na was beating a player she had lost her last three meetings with.

The Russian showed a brief reprisal by securing the next game on a wild Na forehand, and the Russian attack seemed imminent.

The cavalry never came, with Sharapova’s inability to play smart tennis that included variations in pace and angle. Na rounded out the set on an easy service game.

The second set started with more of a tussle. Sharapova served well and the score line was a much more even 2-2, with Chris Evert predicting a victory for the Russian, via twitter.

Still, Na’s game plan was solid. A strategy that may have been inspired by her new coach Carlos Rodriguez, and Justine Henin’s former.

Just like the first set Li Na was winning the tough points, the longer rallies and all the important deuce and advantage points. All the games were furthering her lead.

There was to be no Sharapova comeback predicted by Evert. All in all this was a tough and tense encounter that did not reflect a 6-2 6-2 score-line. It was however Li Na’s day, literally, in the sun.

The stats rarely lie. Sharapova had 17 winners and 32 unforced errors whilst Na had a much more even 21 winners and 18 unforced errors. “Today, as I said, I felt like I had my fair share of opportunities. It’s not like they weren’t there. I just couldn’t take them today.” Sharapova stated after her loss.

Sharapova’s conceded twelve games today. In the five matches prior she conceded a total of nine.

Nobody would have predicted Serena Williams and Maria Sharpova to lose in consecutive days.

After the match Li Na thanked the crowd, whom are quickly considering her part of the family. She added she “always plays well in Melbourne,” a fact that is becoming more apparent every year. A fact that would work well in her favour Saturday against Azarenka, a player she has lost her last four meetings with.