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Li the latest big name to fall

Li Na hits a backhand in her first round match against Ksenia Pervak.
by Matt Trollope
Wednesday 27 June 2012

The upsets, in tandem with the skies, have continued to rain down on Day 3 at Wimbledon, with No.11 seed Li Na falling in straight sets to Romanian Sorana Cirstea.

Following the exits of 5th seed Sam Stosur and No.7 seed Caroline Wozniacki earlier in the day at the All England Club, the Chinese player went down 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 37 minutes to a player ranked 41 places below her.

Because of the rain-affected schedule, the match was shifted from its original slot on Court 12 to the more intimate surrounds of Court 4, where just a handful of spectators were afforded the chance to cram in and watch what turned out to be a high-quality battle. Yet it didn’t start out that way.

From the very first point Cirstea simply swung for the fences, and was rewarded for her high-risk strategy. Slamming first serves, cracking powerful returns and clobbering groundstrokes to within mere inches of the lines, she quickly forged ahead 5-1. Li was stunned, unable to get her racket prepared and feet into position, regularly erring on her shots.

It was reminiscent of the Romanian’s stellar performance against Stosur in the first round of this year’s Australian Open, a match in which she hit the tense Aussie off the court to create one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.

However, Li showed a little more resistance than Stosur, settling into the contest and finding the range on her devastating groundstrokes. She began to cover the court more effectively as well, scrambling tigerishly to track down Cirstea’s bombs and ultimately drawing errors, improving to 3-5 on the scoreboard in the process.

Despite going on to lose the opening set, Li had established a better rhythm, and set about imposing her powerful, precise game on Cirstea in the second stanza. A succession of winners helped her gain early service break much to the chagrin of the Romanian, who bashed a ball over the fence and was docked a warning.

Li’s terrific running forehand was flowing at this point, the winners from this wing helping her to establish a 4-2 lead. But Cirstea showed grit, coming through what would prove to be a pivotal seventh game by staving off a break point and holding for 3-4.

It precipitated a run of four consecutive games, but by no means were they a walk in the park for the Romanian. The remainder of the set was a torrid affair of exceptionally high quality, replete with deuce games, momentum swings and opportunities on both sides of the net. Li fought hard and continued to hit out, even when serving to stay in the match in the 10th game.

She looked destined to level the set at 5-5 when a succession of winners pushed her ahead 40-30, but a botched smashed erased that chance. She staved off match point with another winner, but a second proved beyond her. Cirstea, despite slipping over in the middle of the final point, was able to recover to pull off an impressive victory.

She will face No.17 seed Maria Kirilenko in the third round.


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