After a match which typified her penchant for treading the fine line between the divine and the disastrous, Li Na moved into the third round at The Championships.
The No.6 seed played scintillating tennis in the first set, barely won a point in the second and then finally trampled all over her Romanian opponent, Simona Halep, in the third to run out a 6-2, 1-6, 6-0 winner and keeping her campaign for a first Wimbledon title alive in a depleted women’s draw.
Wednesday’s carnage that saw Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova exit the tournament, leaves Li as the third highest-ranked woman remaining. “Welcome to the crazy women's tennis tour,” she said, smiling.
“I have to say it's the worst for Wimbledon, for history, because many big star was out of the tournament, and also so many pulled out for the injury.”
“I was sad, but the same time I got some information because I really didn't want (to be) the next one (out). So I was really prepared for last night and this morning what I should do on the court.”
That was clear from the very first point on No.3 Court. Li came out on top in some athletic rallies to score an immediate service break and then consolidated it for a 2-0 lead, her fabulous running forehand firing as she successfully extricated herself from defensive positions to move onto the attack.
Halep got on the board in the third game, but fell behind another service break as Li’s relentless pressure got to her.
It wasn’t as if the Romanian was playing badly. She was the form player, having scooped the recent Nurnberg and ‘s-Hertogenbosch WTA titles, winning 16 of her past 18 matches – including her last 11 straight – and rising to a career-high of No.32 in the world, just shy of a seeding this week.
But all of that simply put into context how well the sixth seed was striking the ball. Repeatedly landing it within centimetres of the baseline off incredibly powerful yet controlled strokes, she completed an opening set exhibition with 13 winners and just four errors.
Halep then called for the trainer to treat her lower back. And when the players returned to court, cracks began to appear in Li’s infamously brittle game.
The shots that were skimming just above the net for winners were now catching the tape, and when she backed off to play it a little safer, she gave Halep control of the rallies.
The momentum shift, however, was also due to Halep’s excellent play. When she secured a 5-0 lead and jogged to her chair for some more treatment, she’d won 20 out of 25 points.
Li struggled to a service hold in the next game to get on the board, but errors reappeared, handing Halep a set point which she converted with a scorching backhand winner up the line. She’d played the perfect set, finishing with 11 winners to Li’s two and just three errors.
“I think I was pretty good beginning of the match,” Li reflected, “but end of the first set, she called official. I thought, maybe she be retire or something. I was already like lose concentration on the court.”
“When one set all, (I told myself) wake up, she OK. She kick you’re a** already in the second set, so you should ready for a final set.”
A steadying service hold from Li to open the third was met with nodded approval from coach Carlos Rodriguez, and soon she was back to her dominance of the opening set, pinning Halep behind the baseline with relentlessly powerful drives. The Romanian felt the pressure and she was soon down 3-0.
Successive overhead, forehand and backhand winners helped Li break for 4-0, and despite going down 0-40 on serve in the fifth game, she hit her way out of trouble to put the result almost beyond doubt.
Bringing up match point with a crisp backhand winner, Li sealed victory on the next point after one hour and 25 minutes, booking a date with 32nd seed Klara Zakopalova.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all