August 27, 2012 Leave a comment
Despite being a grand slam winner (French Open 2011), China’s Na Li has never really been thought of as a threat to winning another since then. At the age of 30, you’d be inclined to agree with many that she has reached her peak already. Winning the title in Roland Garros saw Li jump to a career high ranking of No.4 but since then she has failed to get past the fourth round in five attempts in a slam including a first round exit here. After her exploits in the US Open Series, she has become many people’s dark horse so I am going to look at five reasons why she could win her second slam here.
Before Madrid in 2011, Li hired a new coach in Michael Mortensen in the hope it would curb her run of bad form. She made back-to-back semi finals in Madrid and Rome in the lead up to the French Open. She told Reuters this when asked about the coaching change – “I don’t care what other people think. My confidence was low and I felt I had to change my coach, After Melbourne I didn’t do well and if you don’t do well you don’t have confidence.”
It seems to make sense that Mortensen gave her the confidence and focus back in her game that had gone sorely missing in the previous months. Li has now hired Justine Henin’s former coach Carlos Rodriguez to hopefully repeat the trick. It seems to have been fairly successful so far, making the final in Montreal and going one better and taking the title in Cincinnati.
Using form since the Olympics, only Petra Kvitova could have a claim to being in better form than Na Li. Li made back to back finals in Montreal and Cincinnati, defeating four Top 10 players in the process (Errani, Radwanska x2, Kerber). Most impressive were the victories over Radwanska where she completely tore apart one of WTA’s top 3 players twice, dropping just five games across the two matches. She also recovered from a 1-6 1-3 deficit against Kerber, and although the German was visibly tiring as the match went on, it was impressive to see the way Li did not let up when she saw her opponent was struggling.
For someone that is a huge confidence player, this is a big thing for Li and if she can take this form into the tournament then there is no reason why we shouldn’t be seeing her in the semi finals. She was also a winner in the lead up tournament to the Australian Open in 2011 which she was a finalist. Her early exits in the US Open in 2010 and 2011 were preceded by runs no better than the third round in both Cincinnati and Canada suggesting that it works both ways.
I think this could be argued both ways, but the fact that Serena is not in Li’s half of the draw can only be a good thing and see her more likely to make the final. Potential quarter final opponent Victoria Azarenka showcased excellent hard court form at the start of the year but the lack of preparation due to injury can’t be ideal for the Belarussian. The same could well apply to Kim Clijsters who, despite being unbeaten here in her last three appearances, surely will be a bit rusty having not played since the Olympics. In her last two tournaments, Clijsters was knocked out in straight sets by two top 10 players in Sharapova and Kerber, picking up just nine games (2 vs Kerber, 7 vs Sharapova) in the process.
Samantha Stosur could be the key though, the defending champion is 6-0 vs Li but the added pressure will not be a good thing and in this form Li has a better chance than ever to make it 6-1 in favour of the Australian. Other top seeds in the half include Safarova, Sharapova and Kvitova, none of which have winning records against Li, Safarova has a losing one while Sharapova and Kvitova are tied. The ‘dark horse’ tag may also ease some of the pressure when you have numerous other former champions in your section, even if some aren’t in as great form.