Open loss can't douse Li's fire
Updated: 2013-01-27 07:39
By Sun Xiaochen in Melbourne, Australia(China Daily)
Top: Belarus's Victoria Azarenka poses with the winner's trophy after her victory over China's Li Na during the women's final at the Australian Open on Saturday. Azarenka won 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Left: China's Li (right) poses with tennis legend Margaret Court as she holds the runner-up trophy. Peter Parks, Greg Wood / AFP
Chinese champion falls to Azarenka in Melbourne, but predicts better will come
The only thing that top athletes can't cool down is the fire in their bellies.
Li Na epitomized that in the Australian Open final on Saturday night, in which she failed to win the Grand Slam crown but earned tons of respect with a twisted ankle and a fighting heart.
After 160 minutes of scrappy play, a break for the Australia Day fireworks and two painful falls, sixth seeded Li lost her second singles final in Melbourne, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, to world No 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. However, Li's ability to fight on after receiving treatment in two medical timeouts somewhat soothed the disappointment of losing the major title.
The thunderous applause in the packed 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena when Li was awarded the runner-up trophy was testament to that.
"She lost the final but earned the whole world's support," Shen Wenjie, a Chinese student who watched the final with two friends, told China Daily, tearfully.
"We hoped she could have won but the defeat doesn't disappoint us at all. Instead, we feel so proud of her. She's proven that the Chinese can overcome difficulties and we are all lucky to witness what happened tonight," said the sophomore majoring in Information Technology at Victoria University
Local Aussie fans, who were already cheering for Li thanks to her previous fine record in Melbourne and wry humor during interviews, chanted her name louder and louder after she returned from her medical breaks.
"Both players played really well today. Personally, I hoped Li would win. It would have been great for her if she could win (after returning from injury)," Mark Darras, a Melbournian, told China Daily.
"She's always played well in Australia and a lot of people like her and support her. She's been friendly to the fans and, for sure, has earned more respect from the people here after this final."
Ending her convincing Melbourne campaign with only one match dropped, albeit the ultimate one, Li was pleased with her solid run since opening her season with a title in Shenzhen.
"Yeah, of course a little bit sad when I lost the final. But if looking (since) the beginning of the year, I still have to say I am proud for myself," Li told a crowded press conference.
Li's smile and kidding with the media presented a sharp contrast with the scenario last year when she wept in the interview room after losing in the fourth round to Belgian Kim Clijsters after holding four match points.
"At least today I could fall down and still laugh. I was the only one who could do that on the court when it was totally black (after banging head on the ground)," the 30-year-old said.
Li's falling over also shocked her opponent.
"You always feel really bad for a player when something like that happens," said Azarenka.
"I kind of felt for her that moment and completely forgot I had to play against her and make her run," said the 23-year-old who will retain her top spot with the winner's 2,000 ranking points.
Azarenka bagged the champion's $2.43 million while Li earned the runner-up's purse of $1.215 million.
The last time Li lost the Australian Open final, in 2011, she went on to claim the crown at Roland Garros.
She now hopes to follow that same path this year.
"I think last year Maria (Sharapova) did the same. She lost the final here and won the French Open. I hope I can do the same this year."
Li's Argentine coach, Carlos Rodriguez, echoed those sentiments.
"The most important thing is to keep going forward. She has made a good start to the season, but it is very long. I hope that in October or November, we can say that she's had a very good season, maybe claiming a Grand Slam or joining the top three, like we fixed (as a goal)."
(China Daily 01/27/2013 page8)