Wimbledon, Jun 24 : After playing so well, so often, at this year's first two major tournaments, Li Na's run at Wimbledon came to an early end.
Only 2½ weeks after giving China its first Grand Slam singles championship at the French Open, and five months after being the runner-up at the Australian Open, Li was knocked out in the second round at the All England Club on Thursday, the grass-court tournament's biggest upset so far.
The third-seeded Li wasted two match points and succumbed to the speedy serving of wild-card entry Sabine Lisicki of Germany in a 3-6, 6-4, 8-6 loss. Lisicki hit 17 aces, including one at 124 mph (200 kph), which the WTA said is the fastest serve by a woman all season.
“I mean, (from) the first point ‘til the end of the match, every serve was, like, around 117 miles (per hour),” said Li, 14-1 in Grand Slam play in 2011 before Thursday. “I mean, this is impossible for the women.”
Leading 5-3 in the third set, Li was a point away from victory while Lisicki served at 15-40. But Lisicki got out of that jam with two services winners followed by two aces.
“Obviously, a good serve is important, but also, you have to use it well,” the 62nd-ranked Lisicki said. “And I think I'm serving quite smart, as well. So it definitely helped me today.”
Talk about an understatement.
Thanks to that serve, Lisicki is no stranger to success on grass, reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2009 and winning a tuneup tournament this month at Birmingham, England; she's won 12 of her last 13 matches on the slick surface.
But she missed five months last year because of a left ankle injury, temporarily dropping out of the top 200 in the rankings.
“Oh, it's been terrible. I mean, I really, literally, had no muscles in my left calf after seven weeks on crutches. So I had to start to learn how to walk again,” the 21-year-old Lisicki said. “It's been a very, very long road back, and tough road back. But that makes those moments right now sweeter.”
Lisicki's return game was good, too, and she broke twice when Li served for the match, at 5-4 and 6-5.
Li became an instant star in China with her French Open title; more than 100 million people in the nation of 1 billion watched that final on TV. Li may not have been kidding when she asked reporters at Wimbledon not to write that she'd be flying home now, so there might be a chance to have some private time with her husband.
Even though her Grand Slam triumph came so recently, Li already could sense a change on court—not in herself, but in other players.
“I didn't feel different. I didn't feel, like, pressure. I mean, (the) only change is, right now, opponents see you different,” she said. “Everyone (who plays) against you, they feeling nothing to lose. So they can play (their) best tennis.” AP