Li Na of China returns a forehand to Kristina Mladenovic of France during their first round match at the French Open at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris May 27, 2014. Photo: Reuters
She earns a Grand Slam championship, is heralded at home, then shows up at subsequent major tournaments and seemingly forgets how to win.
Li Na helped set an unwanted record by crashing out in the first round at Roland Garros yesterday.
Second seed Li’s 7-5 3-6 6-1 loss to Kristina Mladenovic coupled with Stan Wawrinka’s defeat by Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Monday meant it was the first time in history that the two Australian Open champions have lost in the first round in Paris.
Li cut a dejected figure in her press conference and felt her mind rather than her tennis was to blame for the loss.
She said: “I think it doesn’t matter who plays today against me, I would always lose . . . So many things are wrong . . . The problem is myself.
“I didn’t follow the game plan and, even when I was standing up in the court, in my mind I didn’t have any idea how to play the match.”
"Nobody say 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 Tuesday, "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 U.S. Open runner-up, was beaten Tuesday, 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.