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Li Na sees the funny side of Hawk-Eye in defeat

Na Li stretches for a forehand return.
by Alexandra Willis
Tuesday 2 July 2013

It is a well-known fact among tennis scribblers that you never quite know what you are going to get with Li Na. She can crunch the most sublime forehand winner down-the-line with a mere hop and skip. Or she can balloon serves beyond the baseline and find back fences rather than lines.

Equally, she can spend an entire press conference wise-cracking away to herself, making jokes at her own expense, or that of her husband. Or, she can mono-syllable her way through, giving nothing away except that she doesn't really want to be there.

So it was with some trepidation that the world's press asked her to comment on the fact that, leading Agnieszka Radwanska 5-4 in the opening set of their Wimbledon quarter-final, set point in her favour, she hit an ace plum on the line. The line judge called it out, and Li did not challenge. TV broadcasts use Hawk-Eye to show that it was in.

Pause.

"Was in?" she questioned.

"Why you should tell me now?!" Li laughed, putting her head in her hands. "Next time I will challenge it for sure."

It was vintage Li, turning an awkward situation that would have many players looking like thunder into a comical one. For this was a match that Li will undoubtedly rue, a win she had on her racket, only for Radwanska to Houdini her way through in her own remarkable way.

With all of China watching her, the former French Open champion had bustled her way into the last eight in very business-like fashion, the influence of Carlos Rodriguez there for all to see.

One of his tactics has seemed to be encouraging Li to move off the baseline she so favours, trying to beat Radwanska at her own game by disrupting her rhythm and closing the net.

"At  least I was really proud for myself, because at least today I was try to come to the net.  So this is the plan with Carlos," Li explained. "I was so surprised, because, after match, he say, Wow, I so proud of you.  I say, I lose the match.  He say, No, you really do what I say, now I know what I should do," Li revealed.

It worked for much of the first set, the sixth seed saving break points at 3-4, breaking for 5-4, and creating no less than five set point opportunities. But, when she needed them, the winners eluded her and the unforced errors crowded in, that one mistaken call aside. Radwanska snuck the set on the tie-break, and quickly went a break up in the second set.

Her unforced error count mounting as she struggled to deal with Radwanska's relentless retrievals, Li found her way back in from somewhere, a down-the-line winner at 4-4 earning her a break, which she consolidated to level the match at one-set all. 44 winners, 29 unforced errors to her name.

If one was being predictable, you might think that the momentum might stay with Li in that situation. But, perhaps in sync with the tenor of this year's Championships, it was almost predictable that it wouldn't.

Radwanska, having received treatment on her thigh, came straight out and broke serve immediately, registering a 2-0 lead just before the rain came. The roof came on, a situation again that surely should favour Li's big hitting. Or perhaps not.

"Every set's different," Li remarked. " I mean, coming to the final set of course I think two set we play already two hours.  So both was feeling tired on the court, but still fight a lot.

She certainly did that. Serving for the match at 5-2, Radwanska saw match point after match point disappear like London buses as Li's winner count entered the 50s. But the resilience came to an end at the eighth time of asking, and Radwanska took the win, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-2.

"Is very tough to say because, the final set was 6-2.  But in my serve game or she serve game I have a break point, I have a game point, but I didn't got. So I would like to say still tough set," Li said matter-of-factly.

A missed opportunity, perhaps, but it remains the Chinese No.1's best performance at Wimbledon by some distance, one she is encouraged by rather than regretful of.

"[I]was pretty happy about this tournament because last couple month I didn't do well in clay court," she said. "So I really really happy I can find better feeling in the grass.  But the grass season is over, so just try to continue to start the hard court season."

But not just yet.

"I will get out of here as soon as possible," she said smiling. "Maybe go shopping.  Maybe go somewhere else.  Just try relax a little bit."

She's earned it.

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