Li makes shock exit
Much to her dismay, Li Na is familiar with this feeling. She earns a Grand Slam championship, is heralded at home, then shows up at subsequent major tournaments and seemingly forgets how to win.
Happened in 2011, after her French Open triumph made her China's first player with a Grand Slam singles title. Happened again yesterday when Li was seeded second at Roland Garros but lost to someone ranked 103rd in the first round not quite four months removed from winning the Australian Open.
"I didn't follow the game plan," Li said. "Didn't have any idea how to play."
Her 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 exit against Kristina Mladenovic of France in front a partisan crowd on a cloudy, windy Day Three came about 16 hours after the men's Australian Open champion, third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, was beaten in Paris - making this French Open already unlike any Grand Slam tournament in history.
It's the first time that the men's and women's singles champions from the previous major lost in the first round.
"Nobody says if you (are) No. 2 in the world, you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis," said Li, who works with Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of four-time French Open titlist Justine Henin.
For an opening match at a major, the "tension is different," she added. "Always tough to pass the first round."
Top players, even the likes of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, frequently talk about being particularly jittery at the start of a Grand Slam tournament, even against clearly outclassed competition.
They notice, to be sure, when folks such as Li or Wawrinka depart quickly.
"Regardless of what's happened to the other players," said reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who won in four sets yesterday, "I still hoped that I would try or be able to find ways through my first match and negotiate my way through a tricky opponent in these conditions."
This French Open has seen some rough going for several past major champions and other highly seeded players and the second round has yet to begin.
No. 13, Caroline Wozniacki, the 2009 US Open runner-up, was beaten yesterday, less than a week after her planned wedding to golf star Rory McIlroy was called off; No. 11, Grigor Dimitrov, considered an up-and-coming threat by many, lost to Ivo Karlovic; two seeded men, No. 16, Tommy Haas and No. 21, Nicolas Almagro, quit during the first set because of injuries; past Grand Slam titles winner Lleyton Hewitt also lost.
One person pleasantly surprised to finally feel what it's like to win in the first round is 66th-ranked Marinko Matosevic of Australia, who was 0-12 at Grand Slam tournaments before beating Dustin Brown of Germany 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-7 (1), 7-5.
"Huge relief," said Mato-sevic, who now meets No. 7, Murray. "It got pretty demoralising at some stages. I had some tough draws. When I did have my chances, I just couldn't quite do it."