As Wimbledon enters its second week, there is a Chinese player still in the running, but not the one that most fans would have expected to see still alive. Peng Shuai faces Maria Sharapova at 12:00 noon local time Monday, after Li Na followed her French Open win with a disappointing second-round exit from Wimbledon. She lost (3-6, 6-4, 8-6) to wildcard Sabine Lisicki, a 21-year-old German who is making a comeback after a long absence due to an ankle injury. Lisicki, whose highest world ranking so far is 22, rode her powerful serve (average speed of first serve, 112 mph) to victory over world number four Li.
Although Li’s loss is the biggest upset of the tournament so far, and certainly a big disappointment to her, it’s something that her fans will need to learn to take in stride. People here seem to have incredibly high expectations for any Chinese athlete that has shown she can compete with the best in the world. Whatever the reason — national pride, thirst for heroes, a disparity between China’s political position and its sporting success, or a simple lack of understanding of just how competitive a sport like professional tennis is — fans here seem to expect success to be followed by success and more success.
Fans need to be more patient, Li said after the match, according to this AFP report, which in its headline attributes to her the line “Don’t burden me with all your hopes,” although the quote or one like it never appears in the story.
Still, Li will of course be looking to approve on this performance in August at the U.S. Open. She might want to consider using some of her French Open prize money to hire a sports psychologist, because she seems to be inconsistent in pressure situations. She blew two match points, committing two unforced errors in the final set against Lisicki. Meanwhile, her opponent rose to the occasion in the final set, slugging out four serves in a row between 122 and 126 mph. Earlier this year at the Australian Open, Li got off to a 6-3 start, but completely lost her edge in the last two sets to lose to Clijsters 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
For now, China has one more hope alive in this tournament. This year, 25-year-old Peng Shuai reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, and retired from the French Open in the second round due to illness. She has beaten Li Na and Svetlana Kuznetsova this season, and lost to Sharapova in three sets at Indian Wells in March.
Tags: Li Na, Peng Shuai