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Li Na falls to giantkiller Barbora Zahlavova Strycova

by Helen Gilbert
Friday 27 June 2014

Earlier in the week Li Na revealed she loved being scheduled first match on because it meant she could fit more into her day.

On Friday her wish was granted once again when she was listed to open No.1 Court proceedings against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Except the end result did not quite go to plan.

The match would go on for two hours and 19 minutes and she’d be walking off the loser after double faulting on match point. It was not meant to be this way. 

Li had beaten the Czech in their two previous meetings. At the 2011 Australian Open and four months later on the clay of Roland Garros, the same year she would go on to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. Furthermore, the world No.43 had never before beaten a top 10 player.

The odds were surely stacked in Li’s favour. Except China’s biggest female sports export had not played for almost a month after her first round loss at the French Open, opting to stay away from the warm up Eastbourne event. “[It’s] always rain, windy.  I say, OK, I cannot practise in that. I make a decision,” she said. But Li rarely looked comfortable on the court. 

Zahlavova Strycova, on the other hand, had enjoyed a magnificent spell on the lawns of Birmingham earlier this month before losing to Ana Ivanovic in the final. And it showed in her shot making and decisiveness. 

From the off she seized control, breaking Li in the opening game. Although she was broken straight back, the 28-year-old employed a sparkling grass court game that involved frequent forays to the net, more often than not with winning results. Deft touches, deep volleys; after 15 minutes the scoreboard glowed 3-1 in her favour.

Although Li managed to break back eventually it would be a tie-break that would decide the first set. Zahlavova Strycova had not lost one of those this year, entering the match on a 9-0 winning streak, and she was not about to start now. When Li mis-hit a forehand the underdog clinched the set after 71 minutes.

Come the second set tie-break, drama erupted in the arena when the Czech player thought she had won the match after a forehand was called out. She strolled to the net to shake Li’s hand but the world No.2 challenged the call and the ball was ruled in. The point was replayed but Li double faulted on match point.

“I need to play some matches before the big one,” Li conceded. “Is not only about technique.  I think sometimes I don't know how to play the point, especially in the important moment.  I think today I make a lot of mistake.

Praising her opponent, Li added: “I think she finds very good chance to come to the net.  Pretty good serve, I would like to say, today.  I don't know how other day she play, but at least today she has very good serve.” 

Zahlavova Strycova, who has admitted in the past that she can be a little moody on court, said: “I told myself before the match, I mean, this is Wimbledon, Court No. 1, I shouldn't be grumpy. This is why I do this sport.  
“This is why I play, to play these matches. I think I did great today with mental.  It wasn't easy actually.

"The last point she challenged the match point.  I thought I won the match.  I didn't hear that she challenged it. It's really tough.  You kind of won the match, but you did not. It’s so far away still.  I wasn't nervous at that point.  I knew what I'm going to do.  But my mental skills were working today.” 

Zahlavova Strycova faces Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round. 

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