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Mental meltdown costs Li

By Associated Press in Paris (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-29 06:55

Much to her dismay, Li Na is familiar with this feeling.

She earns a Grand Slam championship, is heralded at home, then shows up at subsequent major tournaments and seemingly forgets how to win.

It happened in 2011, after her French Open triumph made her China's first player with a Grand Slam singles title.

It happened again on Tuesday, when Li was seeded second at Roland Garros but lost in the first round to someone ranked 103rd - not quite four months removed from winning the Australian Open.

"I didn't follow the game plan," Li said. "Didn't have any idea how to play."

Her 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 exit against Kristina Mladenovic of France on a cloudy, windy Day 3 came about 16 hours after the men's Australian Open winner, third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, was beaten in Paris - marking the first time in Grand Slam history that both singles champions from the previous major lost in the first round.

"Nobody says if you are No 2 in the world, you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis," said Li, who works with Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of four-time French Open titlist Justine Henin.

For an opening match at a major, "the tension is different,', she said. "It's always tough to pass the first round."

Top players, even the likes of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, frequently talk about being jittery at the start of a Grand Slam tournament, even against inferior competition. And they notice when players such as Li or Wawrinka depart quickly.

"Regardless of what's happened to the other players, I still hoped I would be able to find ways through my first match and negotiate my way through a tricky opponent in these conditions," said reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who won in four sets on Tuesday,

Li hung her head when she sailed a stroke long on match point for her 37th unforced error, 12 more than Mladen-ovic. At the opposite baseline, Mladenovic raised both arms, then covered her mouth with her trembling left hand, trying to process what had just happened.

Soon, the 21-year-old Mlad-enovic was choking back tears.

"It's never normal when you beat such a big name, such a big player," said Mladenovic, who had been 1-5 at the French Open before Tuesday, including a loss to Li in 2010.

She faced two set points in the opener while trailing 5-4 but erased both and took three games in a row to nose ahead.

"This is really big," Mladen-ovic said. "You don't beat Li Na every day."

Unless, that is, you catch her coming off one of the true highs in her inconsistent career. Three years ago, after the big breakthrough in Paris, Li lost in the second round at Wimbledon, then in the first round at the US Open.


Defending champion Serena Williams was sensationally dumped out of the French Open on Wednesday in the biggest upset of the tournament so far.

The American 17-time Grand Slam champion slumped to a 6-2, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Spanish world No 35 Garbine Muguruza in just over an hour. The defeat comes less than an hour after her sister Venus was also knocked out, this time by teenager Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

(China Daily 05/29/2014 page24)

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