Na Li

Paris: Jankovic, Li Withdraw; Goerges, Safarova, Pironkova in Action

The Open GDF Suez WTA event in Paris saw seeded players Na Li and Jelena Jankovic both withdraw due to injuries today: Li with a sore back and Jankovic with a left thigh strain she picked up in Serbia’s 3-2 win over Belgium in the Fed Cup last week.

[singlepic id=3426 w=320 h=240 float=right]Li received a medical timeout, with a trainer massaging her lower back, before playing a few more points and eventually retiring after trailing in the second set to Tsvetana Pironkova.

“It was so painful,” Li said. “That’s why I called the physio to come to the court. I tried to tape and then tried to play the point, but it didn’t work. I’ll go to the hospital to take an MRI to see what happened.”

“I hurt myself in the Fed Cup at the weekend,” elaborated Li. “It had gotten better since and this morning it didn’t hurt. But the stab of pain returned, very strong and I couldn’t continue. I don’t know if it’s because of the Fed Cup, maybe I’m getting old as well,” added Li, who turns 30 later this month.

Likewise, Jankovic picked up her injury while playing Fed Cup against Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium last week and wasn’t able to heal in time to play in Paris.

“I had hoped that after treatment I could still play here but unfortunately it’s impossible,” said Jankovic. “Australia (Open) and the Fed Cup and then here, that’s a lot. But it’s important for me to play for my country… I don’t know when I will be able to resume playing but I don’t regret having played in the Fed Cup.”

Although the third and fourth seeds are gone, the tournament still has it’s top two marquee players scheduled to play, Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli.

[singlepic id=3416 w=320 h=240 float=left]Other winners include sixth seed Julia Goerges who dispatched of Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-3, while ninth-seed Angelique Kerber defeated Lucie Safarova 6-2, 7-6. Chanelle Scheepers defeated Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2. Qualifier Mona Barthel easily dispensed of Barbara Zahlavova Strycova 6-3, 6-2, while Petra Cetkovska defeated Alberta Brianti 6-3, 6-3.

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Catch all the great action our photographer Rick Gleijm caught during the first round main draw matches today! And make sure to check out his feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

Stay tuned all week for full coverage in Paris and catch Rick at the ATP Rotterdam tournament next week!

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Sabine Lisicki is my Wimbledon champion

Sabine Lisicki is the winner of today.   The goodlooking German defeated fresh French Open winner Na Li in the second round of Wimbledon 3-6 6-4 and 8-6.  The win is a quantum leap for Lisicki who spent five months  lingering with a persistent ankle injury.

“My emotions are so, I mean, just over the moon,” said Lisicki, who served 17 aces and had 32 winners. “It’s just amazing.”

“It was very, very hard,” she said. “I really had to start from zero after being on crutches for seven weeks so it just means so much to me, you know, winning the title in Birmingham and getting the wild card here. I appreciate it so much, to be back in Wimbledon. It’s just a place that I love so much.”

Lisicki won the Birmingham tournament earlier this month and was granted a wildcard by the Wimbledon organisation. And so far, by ousting Na Li, it seems to be a good call.

Na Li had no answer to the hard serving Lisicki but remained positive at her pressconference:

“Tough match,” Li said. “But I think both players today played great. Nothing wrong, just unlucky. I have two match points. But I can do nothing for these two match points.”

“Start of the first point until the end of the match, every serve was like around 117 miles (per hour),” she said. “I mean, this is impossible for the women.”

The Lisicki party didn’t end after the match and the pressconference. It just continued online on her Facebook page:

Omg, what a match! I won 8:6 in the third set after saving double matchpoint at 3:5 in the 3rd set!!! So happy to win on Center Court in Wimbledon! The crowd was just amazing and helped me a lot! THANK YOU so much!!!
I´m playing doubles with Sam tomorrow and my next singles is vs Doi on saturday! Have a good night everyone! ♥

And because it’s a special victory for Sabine,  I find that we should celebrate too with these exclusive photos of Sabine shot by our staff photographer Ralf Reinecke!

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Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal’s legendary rivalry continues, Na Li the big winner, Novak Djokovic is mentally flexible – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Mission Accomplished

Despite his lacking confidence and putting in some of his most shaky performances at Roland Garros in recent memory, Rafael Nadal, as he has done so often, found a way to cross the finish line on final Sunday. After being just a set away from losing in the first round to John Isner, the Spaniard buckled down, surrendering only one additional set en route to the title. And while his play may not have been as sharp as some of his previous title runs, in many ways, this win was the most impressive one of all. It not only ensured that he would retain the No. 1 singles ranking for the time being, but more importantly, it tied him with tennis legend Bjorn Borg for most men’s singles titles at Roland Garros with six. It also moved him up the list of all-time greats with this victory representing his tenth overall Grand Slam singles title. Hats off to Rafa for putting together another fine two weeks in Paris, and let’s see how much he can use this win as a springboard to further big results throughout the summer.

 

Happy Returns

Nine years ago, Na Li was convinced she couldn’t make it in professional tennis and left the game to attend university. But on the final Saturday of the French Open, the charismatic Chinese woman proved to herself and the rest of the world that she had made the right decision in returning to tennis, as she not only won her first major singles title, but the first singles championship for a Chinese player, man or woman. It was evident from the start that she had learned from her first final appearance in Melbourne, and it was admirable the way she was able to right the ship after her second set wobble. At 29, she is unlikely to garner several more Slams, but with her game and the new-found confidence and belief that come with securing her first major, it’s certainly not out of the question that she may hoist up other major singles trophies. Be sure to keep an eye on her as the season progresses.

Mixed Bag

Though he fell short in the final match, this year’s Roland Garros saw what could be termed a mini-revival in the career of Roger Federer. The Swiss Maestro cruised through his matches until he reached the semifinals – where he was supposed to lose. Djokovic had owned Federer in 2011, but on that Friday, Roger Federer played one of the best matches he’s played in years to remind everyone that he still has plenty of game left in the tank, earning a hard fought victory in four scintillating sets to reach the final. As he took to the court in the final, he appeared the most relaxed he’s ever been when facing Nadal at this stage, and he ultimately did play the best match he’s ever played against Nadal on final Sunday in Paris. But in the biggest moments – particularly at the end of the first set – it was plain to see that Federer is still Nadal’s pigeon, at least on the Parisian clay, as the doubt crept across his face and into his game. Hopefully this loss won’t linger, and Federer will instead take away all the positives from the French Open fortnight as he heads into the heart of the summer season.

One to Watch

Although he had never even reached the final in Paris, having not lost a match all season, Novak Djokovic went into Roland Garros as one of the heavy favorites. He fought his way through a tough draw to reach the semifinals where Roger Federer stood between him and history. Had Djokovic beaten Federer, not only would he have reached his first Roland Garros final, but he would have secured the No. 1 singles ranking and tied John McEnroe’s 42 consecutive matches for best start to a season. In the end, the combination of that pressure and more so the spectacular tennis coming off the Federer racquet proved too much for the Serb, as he saw his streak and Paris hopes come to a halt one match shy of the final. Shortly thereafter, Djokovic announced his withdrawal from Queen’s, citing tendinitis. His knee issues this year are well documented, but most would surely be in agreement that his withdrawal is more about having to mentally recover from what was truly a devastating loss considering what all was at stake. Djokovic appears to have the type of personality that would allow him to quickly bounce back, but be sure to watch for how he comes out of the gates after suffering his first defeat of 2011.

This One Might Take

Earlier this week, the return of Team Williams was announced, with both sisters scheduled to compete in the Eastbourne grass court tune up for Wimbledon. As always, it’s safest to assume an attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it” when it comes to either of these two making a return to tour tennis, but this one definitely has more of an air of certainty about it. All eyes will be on the Americans to see where their games are after extended layoffs. But even if either Williams – who are both currently ranked outside the top 20 – should crash out early, it won’t matter. Rest assured that they will still be considered favorites (albeit not heavy favorites) to win the title at SW19. Their ability to flip the switch on little to no match play is well known. Besides, Venus Williams has always appeared indifferent to what others have thought of her and her game, and for a drama queen like Serena Williams, defying the odds to come back from a year of injuries and successfully defend her Wimbledon title is not a challenge to back down from, but an opportunity to be relished.

Roland Garros 2011 review, Azarenka, Zvonareva and Jankovic announce WTA Championships Istanbul

So everyone enjoyed the French Open 2011?  I never in my wildest dreams would have expected Na Li to win at the ladies and I never thought that Novak Djokovic in this super form of his would lose to Roger Federer.  My preview was completely shot down and I don’t mind at all. Like I wrote previews are nothing more than predictions even though it was exciting when Maria Sharapova made it to the semis. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Na Li takes home the Roland Garros  2011 crown

And as an Asian I am very proud that Na Li has won the Roland Garros 2011 tournament. I really really never saw this one coming. She was awesome in Australia and then we get nothing. No finals, early exits, funny press conferences but outside that we get nothing and all of a sudden she is there and has a very heavy draw. She takes out Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova on her way to the finals. That are two heavy matches in a row and then takes the finale as well. Amazing stuff by Madame Li.

Maria Sharapova awesomeness

I have to praise Sharapova’s awesome Facebook message though.

Put myself in a position to win the BIG one and came up short!! No excuses!! All the credit to Li Na for playing a great match. I need to get better and keep working. I want to thank all my die hard fans for cheering me on the past 2 weeks. Can’t wait to smell the grass!!!

And she came up short. Just a little…better luck next year.

Caroline Wozniacki cries

My other contender, Caroline Wozniacki, went down in the first week.  From what I read is that was cried in the dressing room. The not having won a Grand Slam thing has gotten to her from what  I read. It’s really not a big deal from my point of view. Yes, the Grand Slams are the most important on the tour but there are only four them each year. There are more premier tour events and smaller ones that will accumulate enough points to justify that number one spot. It still shows that you are the best.  And it only means that you are missing one of the majors. But Wozniack is still young, she is only 20 and still has her entire career ahead of her.

Taken from her official Facebook:

It wasn’t a good day for me yesterday, Daniela played amazing tennis. To cheer myself up I’ll be watching the Barcelona – Manchester United game tonight, should be a good one!

I am sure that she enjoyed that match. Or whatever you want to call it because at time Manchester United looked like they were on the field because they had to. By the way Caroline’s favorite Spanish team is FC Barcelona. As is mine. Oh and here is a photo of Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki at the ITF Champions dinner. Looks good, huh?

 

Martina Hingis returns

But as an old die hard Martina Hingis fan, I was particularly pleased by the return of Hingis in the Legends tournament.  Hingis played doubles with former rival and longtime friend Lindsay Davenport and defeated Martina Navratilova / Jana Novotna 6-1 6-2 for the Roland Garros Legends 2011 title.  Photos of Hingis at the end of this post and courtesy of longtime friend and photographer François from WagoPhoto.

Victoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic in Istanbul

Now you may wonder what is so special about the three of them being in Istanbul but it is a special occasion because they are there to announce the launch of the WTA Championships. The last big tournament of the year and you can only participate when you have accumulated a certain amount of points. You can follow the Race to Istanbul on the WTA Champions site.  It is not written in stone yet but I may actually attend this year in October in Istanbul.

Would I deny you these pics of Azarenka, Zvonareva and Jankovic ? Ofcourse not! Enjoy the photos.

Victoria Azarenka

I’m in Istanbul for the launch of the WTA Championships. I’m really excited to be here because I’ve heard amazing things about the city!

Vera Zvonareva

In Turkey with Vika and Jelena Jankovic where we are helping to announce the WTA Tour Championships which will be held in Istanbul for the first time this year. Here’s a picture from earlier today.

Jelena Jankovic

Had anoter nice day here in Istanbul today. We announced that BNP Paribas and Türk Ekonomi Bankasý will become the title sponsors of the Championships. Here is a nice picture of me and Vera Zvonareva at the announcement.

Na Li makes history with first Grand Slam

Li Na became the first Chinese player to lift a Grand Slam as she won the French Open final on Saturday to dethrone reigning champion Francesca Schiavone.

The 29-year-old survived a late wobble to win 6-4, 7-6(0) in one hour and 48 minutes and avenge her defeat to Schiavone here last year on the Italian’s way to her maiden major win.

That, coupled with her preference on clay, made Schiavone the slight favourite, but Li dominated with her serve and baseline play that made her a formidable object that the Italian could not find a way past.

After squandering an early break point Li finally secured the advantage in game five when she broke for a 3-2 lead. Her powerful serve would help her see out the set. It was secured with another trademark of this match, Li’s mesmerising cross-court forehand, which secured set point after just 39 minutes.

 

She had only dropped six points on serve throughout the entire set.

Li broke again at the start of the second when Schiavone netted a forehand and, given the chance to break straight back, the 30-year-old could only watch as a Li ace sailed straight past her.

Schiavone was struggling to make any inroads from the baseline and couldn’t match the shot selection displayed by her opponent as she tried to find a way back in to the match.

Li failed to take further break points, though, and, not used to being in this position, the nerves inevitably began to show. In game eight four forehand errors gave Schiavone the break back and at 4-4 the pressure began to mount.

Her confidence was returning and the crowd began to sniff a third set as the predicted showers held off. But her game fell apart when leading 6-5 as a controversial line-call put her off her stride and she failed to win another point, Li strolling 7-0 through the ensuing tie-break.

Despite calls from her own fans disrupting her concentration slightly, Li composed herself and served out the final point that began the celebrations as China joined the illustrious list of nations to have produced Grand Slam Champions.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Li afterwards, “because China never had a Grand Slam champion, so that’s why so many players in China are working so hard. The dream is you can be the top player or win the Grand Slam.

“When I was a young player I wanted to be in a Grand Slam final. But today, some people say I’m getting old – so the old woman had the dream come true. Not easy,” added the star, who lost to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open final in January.

“After the French in the next two weeks is Wimbledon, so I don’t have time to go back to China right now,” she joked. “I’ll go back after Wimbledon. If I don’t do well at Wimbledon maybe the people forget me already. These are tough times.

“I think right now is the best time for me because I can enjoy it with my team, not like Melbourne. Now I’ll just enjoy it with my team and focus on Wimbledon.”

In the men’s final yesterday, Rafael Nadal equalled Bjorn Borg’s record of six French Open titles when he won a fantastic bout with great rival Roger Federer in a rain-interrupted 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1 victory after three hours and 39 minutes.

The win was the tenth Grand Slam for the 25-year-old, who now sits six behind Federer in the all-time list, and just as importantly means he remains top of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings going in to Wimbledon.

Federer, full of confidence after finally stopping Novak Djokovic after 43 matches in the semi-finals, began well, and with Nadal struggling with blisters and confidence he looked to be steaming towards the first set.

His forehand was giving the Spaniard all sorts of problems and serving for the set at 5-3, a delicate drop-shop attempt on set point dropped marginally the wrong side of the line.

Nadal has dominated at this event, losing only once in the 2009 quarter-final to Robin Soderling, and that moment seemed to give him his confidence back as a vicious cross-court backhand dug him out of trouble and before you knew it he had levelled at 5-5.

The tennis on display was breathtaking, two blistering forehands and a sumptuous lob over Federer’s head helping him to a 6-5 lead. Nadal continued to press and another sweeping shot across court left Federer rooted to the spot and secured the first set.

The shock must have hurt the Swiss native and he started the second set poorly, Nadal breaking him in the first game. With his usually trusty backhand beginning to leak points Federer had to rely on his serve to fight off break points, but his harrowing persistence was rewarded when Nadal miss-hit a backhand and the set was tied at 4-4.

And just when it looked like Nadal might charge ahead when serving at 5-4 following another break, the rain arrived at 40-40 and play was suspended for ten minutes. When it resumed, Nadal seemed to miss concentration and Federer tied again, eventually forcing a tie-break.

But Nadal rallied again and forced more forehand errors from his opponent as he raced in to a 4-0 lead. Federer didn’t respond.

In to the third set, a poor drop shot and a ferocious Nadal return of serve saw the Majorcan move 4-2 ahead and few could envisage a Federer fight back. But you don’t just pick up 16 Grand Slams, and Federer can back again, taking four games in a row to serve out the third set to rapturous applause from the crowd.

But his steam had run out after matching Nadal’s tenacity for so long, and further errors coupled with some tired shot selection meant the most successful player of all time could not prevent Nadal taking the fourth set 6-1, and once he had served it out he sank to his knees in tears of joy.

“It’s very special to equal the six French Opens of Bjorn Borg – it’s an honour to be compared to Borg,” Nadal said of equalling the record, “but the most important thing is to win Roland Garros.”

“I’m not the best player in the history of tennis but I’m amongst the best and that’s enough for me.”

“To win this kind of title is always satisfying,” explained Nadal, who was not at his best throughout the tournament and suffered a first round scare against John Isner. “But sometimes when you fight a lot to win, when you try your best in every moment to change the situation, it makes the title more special.

“For example, in 2008 I think I played better than ever, but I finished the tournament and I didn’t feel that I won Roland Garros because I won in three sets every round.”

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.

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.