There was nothing straightforward about the third-round match between Li Na and Klara Zakopalova.
Li, the No.6 seed, entered the match as the clear favourite over No.32 seed Zakopalova but Li’s legions of fans would have had their hearts in their mouths on several occasions as Zakopalova threatened to add Li to the long list of high-profile casualties.
A relatively even first set was punctuated by one break of serve to Zakopalova. Li’s unforced error count didn’t help her – she made 13 to her opponent’s eight.
Dropping the first set stung Li into action. “After first set I was thinking…I couldn't continue the way, otherwise I would lose the match. I need change something in my game.”
The former Roland Garros champion reined in the loose shots that had sabotaged her chances in the opening set and attacked Zakopalova’s relatively weak second serve. The result was six consecutive games to Li and suddenly the match was level at one set all.
Li’s fans could be forgiven for thinking that their heroine was going to run away with the match from here. Sure, Zakopalova might win a couple of games but Li was so dominant in the second set she couldn’t possibly let her opponent back in. Could she? Yes, she could.
The third set was everything the second set wasn’t. For a start, Zakopalova got straight on the board by breaking Li’s serve. Suddenly Li was down a break in the deciding set. This turn of events seemed to make Li tighten up a little.
“I think everyone will be tight when the final set is coming,” she said. “Already play two set.”
Li’s chances of moving through to the fourth round improved slightly when she broke back in the next game.
But the unforced errors that she had practically erased from her game in the second set returned and brought friends. Having hit just three in the second set, Li would rack up 12 in the third set to take her total to 28 for the match. But she wasn’t alone – Zakopalova clocked up 30 of her own.
The balls that were kissing the lines in the second set were suddenly flying long, wide or burying themselves in the net. Compounding matters, Li was not hitting deep enough to her experienced opponent, allowing Zakopalova to dictate from the baseline.
“She plays pretty flat and also pretty deep. Sometimes I really I was feeling I have dug my knees in the ground and I can't hit the ball. I mean, this is grass court. Lucky not so many players like her.”
Zakopalova was also adept at using Li’s pace against her and sending it back with interest, keeping her onher back foot. The Czech world No.43 missed a golden opportunity to break in the seventh game, which she will look back on as a turning point.
Li held serve and kept the status quo for a few more games before finally securing the match 8-6 in the deciding set.
“I was really happy I didn't give up. Still hang in there, yeah. Fight like crazy, but still at least I will be in the second week of Wimbledon,” said a clearly relieved Li.
Next up for Li is No.11 seed Roberta Vinci, who easily accounted for Dominka Cibulkova 6-1 6-4.
“I saw her [Vinci] play a little bit today because for when I was waiting for my match, she has pretty good slice in the backhand. Not so many girls use to do that, also especially in the grass court. So I have to rally and, yeah, fight.”
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.
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