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WTA Championships 2013 - Na Li: Why the Chinese is Feeling the Heat in Istanbul?

By Romil Talwar    + Follow

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Keywords: Season-Ending WTA Championships | Na-Li
WTA Championships 2013 - Na Li: Why the Chinese is Feeling the Heat in Istanbul?
There is a saying that 'Pressure creates diamonds' as it is not easy to satisfy the expectations of a person, let alone a whole country. We see numerous examples of sports stars succumbing to the whims and fancies of their fans. But in our tennis fraternity, one player is defying all odds and is making a mark for not only herself, but for her nation as well. This player is none other than Na Li.

The Wuhan native Na Li achieved cult status in her homeland after becoming the first Chinese woman to win a Major at the 2011 French Open. Her consistent performances at the premier level tournaments added a new vitality to her nation’s tennis program and elevated the sport to a higher pedestal.  Even off court, she was and still is always in the news. Be it her ‘fly – alone’ reform policy or her relationship with Jiang Shang, Li is always under the media spotlight.

However, her performances at crucial stages of a tournament become a hotbed of debates and speculation. Numerous attempts have been made to classify her as a player who “chokes” at key moments. The veracity of the statement comes from her performances at the Season Ending World Tour Championships considered, arguably as one of the most elitist tournaments on the WTA tour.

Li’s path at the Tour Finals has been something of a mixed bag. Her achievement of qualifying for the Finals back-to-back in 2011 and 2012 reflects a remarkable solidarity in her game which only a few players can emulate. Yet, her progress at the competition is what surprises many.

Considering the veteran's journey until now, it can be safe to say that her game is one of the best in the business having the capability of beating anyone on her day. But she has choked both times at Istanbul, being unable to advance beyond the round robin stages of the Championships.

In 2011 she was drawn in the White Group comprising Russian diva Maria Sharapova, World No.2 Victoria Azarenka and the 2011 US Open champ Samantha Stosur. She beat Sharapova in her first match but then lost the other two matches disappointingly.

If we look in retrospect, Li had trumped both Sharapova and Azarenka on the bounce to claim her maiden Grand Slam at Roland Garros few months ago and was in fine form coming to Istanbul, but failed to recreate the same kind of magic inside the Sinan Erdem Dome that year. She was annihilated by her nemesis Samantha Stosur as the Aussie swept her aside 6-1, 6-0 in less than an hour and Vika too gave her a 6-2, 6-2 thrashing as she produced an error-prone act in her clash against her.  

The same dilemma can be corroborated by her performance at the 2012 World Tour Finals. She was placed alongside Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka. In her first match against Serena, she held a 4-1 advantage in the opening set, but then collapsed under pressure and lost in straight sets. She then defeated the in-form German who had an extremely good season and had even defeated Li at the BNP Paribas Open earlier that season.

Her chances of advancing to the semi-finals depended upon her match with Victoria Azarenka whom she had trounced last year at the Round Robin stage. Li held a 5-4 advantage on her own serve in the first set, but could not keep up with the level of Azarenka thus losing to her and once again getting eliminated prior to the semi-finals. Coincidentally she met Azarenka later that month at an exhibition match and won comfortably, though I wouldn’t add much credence to that event.

Keeping all these things in mind, it becomes substantially clear that Li faces the untiring dilemma of being a “double edged sword” that has the game to beat anyone on her day, but crunches at World Tour Finals. Her finesse at tennis is unparalleled, but it can’t bring her the glory of winning the coveted title. Though, it seems to reflect a low mental strength yet Li Na is one of the most charismatic players on the Tour and certainly a sportswoman to look up to.

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