Tag Archives: Li Na

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: From Valedictorians to Class Clowns, Here are Grades for the Year’s First Major

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Genie Bouchard. Next.

Genie Bouchard. Next.

We got an inspirational new champion, a re-invented former champion, a few possible future champions and then, well, failure and theater of the absurd. Really, Australian Open officials? It’s OK to have players out there in 110 degree heat because people used to chase antelope in Africa?

WHAT?

So here are the final grades for the Australian Open, of valedictorians, teacher’s pets, class clowns and everything in between.

VALEDICTORIANS

LI NA: In a sport in need of mainstream attention, Li not only gives tennis something every sport dreams of – something to market to the massive population and economy of China – but also a post-championship match victory speech that goes viral. As a result, Li might be the most important player in the women’s game today, maybe even more than Serena Williams. Li was able to win the Australian Open without beating a top player, but that’s not her fault. Eight months ago, with her results failing and the Chinese media ripping her, Li nearly retired. Her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has helped the sport big time. Grade: A+

STAN WAWRINKA: Wawrinka’s championship was even more impressive than Li Na’s, considering the tougher competition he had to beat. He spent the past few years thinking he was never going to be able to break through the Big Four in men’s tennis, but finding honor in getting up after every defeat to keep fighting anyway. And then he took down Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You can’t win two major tennis matches by fluke. He earned this. Grade: A+

TEACHER’S PETS

ANA IVANOVIC: The game has just been waiting for her to get her nerve back. And she came out firing again. She beat Serena Williams, not to mention Sam Stosur, and showed that she’s perfectly capable of being a top 10 player again and a threat to win another major. . .if she keeps believing. Grade A-

ROGER FEDERER: New racquet, new coach (Stefan Edberg), new, aggressive gameplan. Same results? Federer lost to Rafael Nadal again. Well, that is a completely unfair analysis. Federer is finally doing all the right things. It is the only way he’s going to win another major, and he finally seems to realize that. It’s not just that he’s coming to the net, but that he’s trying to step into the ball and attack. Sure, he waffled on it against Nadal. This is all new to Fed. It was a GREAT first step. I was starting to watch him and wonder who he’d lose to next while slicing and dinking. Now, I can’t wait to see him. He still can’t beat Nadal, but he now is a threat to win another major or two. He still has game. He even has a legit shot at the French Open. Grade: A

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: Hard to know if Cibulkova just changed her career, but remember this: She came into the Australian Open as a known choker. She left with wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Aga Radwanska and No. 11 Simona Halep before reaching the final. Forgive her for some nerves early in her first major final. That happens. The thing about women’s tennis is that there are only a couple of superstars. The women’s players are sort of cookie-cutter, and if someone with talent and nerves of steel comes along, then it’s going to take a top player playing well to beat her. Hope is that this won’t be Cibulkova’s Melanie Oudin-moment, and that she’ll have found her nerve for the long run. Grade: A+

ACED THE CLASS, FLUNKED THE FINAL

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Aga Radwanska plays brilliantly, wins

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

AGA RADWANSKA: She might have played the match of the tournament in beating Victoria Azarenka. She was everywhere on the court, with just enough power. Azarenka was flustered and confused. And the media hailed Radwanska as a genius for that match. But in her semifinal match against Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska played as if she had had a lobotomy. I’m not even sure Radwanska tried. When things weren’t working, she kept doing them. There was no hint of strategy. This is the problem with the almost-greats. You see incredible things, and then you are reminded why they don’t reach the mountaintop (see Tomas Berdych). Same thing happened with Radwanska at Wimbledon. So what’s the grade? Well, I think she’s good enough to win a major, and marketable enough to be a star. And that semifinal match was so bad, I can barely remember the Azarenka match. Grade: F.

TOMAS BERDYCH: He reached the semifinals, and then smiled and credited his team when he was told that he had become the only current player outside the Big Four to reach the semis of all four majors. Hey Tomas, that’s not really a compliment. Another way of putting it: You are the only player on tour to reach the semis of all four majors, but never win one. Berdych is adding topspin to his forehand, which is being credited for his recent improved play. I don’t know about that. That flat forehand was the reason he was winning matches. The way he fell apart briefly against David Ferrer in the quarters was shocking. Lost his nerve at moments against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, too, but in hindsight, it’s hard to mark him down too far for losing to the champ. One more thing: there was nothing wrong with Berdych’s much-criticized prison-cell shirts, other than his team was wearing them, too. Grade: B

DAVID FERRER: When he lost to Berdych in the quarters in what I’m calling the Bridesmaid Bowl, he lost his unofficial title as best player never to win a major. He pushed the line judge, too, but at least he isn’t hitting balls into the stands at crying babies anymore. Still fighting hard. Still stuck in the land of almost. Maybe Wawrinka’s win will show him what’s possible. Grade: C

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Li Na Wins Second Major, Leads Tennis Into New Frontier

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Li Na in the Australian Open final

Li Na comes off like a stand-up comic, though you’re never quite sure if she’s trying to be funny or if it just comes off that way accidentally with her blunt honesty. She speaks her mind.

But she stood on the court Saturday after winning the Australian Open and gave her joking/truths over the p.a., thanking her agent for making “me rich’’ and then her husband, Shan Jiang, for all he has done.

“Also,’’ she said to Shan, “you are so lucky (to) find me.’’

Tennis was so lucky to find her, and was lucky to still have her Saturday. The U.S. mainstream sports fan doesn’t even know who Li is, but she is women’s tennis’ greatest selling point. She might be the most important person in the women’s game, and is definitely the most important one not named Williams.

Li is the only Chinese player ever to win a major. Now she has won two, beating Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 just nine months after considering retirement rather than continuing to do endure heavy criticism from Chinese media over her falling results.

Her coach talked her into sticking around another month just to see how things went at last year’s Wimbledon. They went well, so she hung around for the U.S. Open. That’s how close tennis was to losing her.

I can’t wait to see what the TV ratings were for Saturday’s match. Think worldwide. Think hundreds of millions. Think: Super Bowl-like.

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When Li won the 2011 French Open, according to TV ratings, 116 million people watched in China. A week later, 106 million watched the Super Bowl in the U.S. I know it sounds as if a punchline is coming; there are a lot more people in China than in the U.S.

But with so many sports looking to find a way to crack China, seeing it as an under-tapped massive population with a strong economy, tennis has already been trying to ride Li’s success since 2011. It was trying before that, too, without much luck.

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WIMBLEDON: Serena Williams or Kim Clijsters, Who had Better Comeback? Also, Wimby Grades, More on Court 2

 

Serena Williams

A few random thoughts and grades on Wimbledon.

Serena Williams is stealing the tournament. Her touching tears of joy after her first round followed by her complaints about being shoved to an outer court after her second round and then her complete domination in the third round, with this proclamation:

“Don’t bet against me.’’

The idea that this is an amazing comeback, after a year away with foot injury and then illness, is hard to argue with. But I always thought she was going to win the tournament anyway. She’s great. The rest of the tour is not. Two statements are being made here.

The question is this: Which is the more amazing comeback? Williams’ or Kim Clijsters?

Clijsters retired for a while, then had a baby, then came back. After two warmup tournaments, she won the U.S. Open. Williams had two surgeries, she said, for cut ligaments in her foot. Then, forced to sit around while she healed, blood clots formed and worked their way up into her lungs. She played one warmup tournament. Continue reading


Li Na: 116 Million People Can’t be Wrong. Another Look at her Amazing French Open Ratings

Li Na

Take all the people who watched Game 5 of the NBA Finals with LeBron and Dwyane and Dirk, and add to that the people who watched the NCAA Championship Game between Butler and UConn.

From there, add everyone who watched The Decision. Plus Kobe Bryant and the Lakers playing Game 7 in the NBA Finals last year against Boston. Plus all of the first four games in the Stanley Cup finals this year. Heck, throw in everyone who watched the American Idol finale.

You know what it adds up to? (Warning: This will not connect well with the American sports psyche.)

It adds up to fewer people than watched the French Open women’s singles tennis final last Saturday.

No, not in the U.S., where just under two million watched the match. In China, 116 million people watched Li Na become the first Chinese major singles champ, beating Francesca Schiavone. But this isn’t to report the ratings, which came out a week ago. Instead it’s about what these numbers mean to American sensibilities. Be honest: We think of ourselves as the center of the sports world.

But Game 5 of this year’s NBA Finals drew 12.9 million viewers. Nine times that many people watched Li in China.

Doesn’t a sport have to do well in the U.S. to be popular and healthy? Honestly, I sort of think it does. How many Americans know that soccer is popular everywhere else, but won’t really make it big until it makes it in the U.S.? There is just too much money here, and such a celebrity culture. Continue reading


FRENCH OPEN: Champion Li Na, Nike, 1.3 Billion People. Tennis has Match Made in Heaven

Li Na becomes China's first tennis champ, wins French Open

 

Just change it, Nike. Change it right now, or add it as a new campaign for Li Na. Li won the French Open Saturday, beating Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) to become the first Chinese tennis player to win a major singles championship. It was thrilling, it was fascinating. Have you finished enjoying the moment, tennis?

Too bad. Time to get to work. You had better have a massive marketing campaign in mind. Li has already invented one, if accidentally by a slight language barrier.

“Just before the start (of the) French Open, I mean, Nike China, they do a T-shirt for me,’’ she said. “They have (in) Chinese, `Be yourself.’ So they asked me, “Is (it) OK to wear this shirt?’ I say, `Of course. Why not?’ They only make the T‑shirt for ‑‑ 30 T‑shirt(s) (for) all of China. I think now they should make more.’’

Oh. My. Are you listening Nike? Are you listening tennis? She has just handed you a masterpiece. Li was likely talking about the Nike Campaign “Make yourself.’’ The company has hired famed photographer Annie Leibovitz to help. And maybe that will be a great campaign. Nike’s usually are.

But how about using her words? Li Na, and “Be Yourself’’ in Chinese. Think: Tennis, much like golf and plenty of other businesses, sees China as the great under-tapped market. It has put tournaments there, but the stands are half empty. Now, China has its first tennis star, a 29-year old who broke from the Chinese tennis federation a few years ago, broke from the state run system, and developed herself. She has a funny personality. She has tattoos. And she can appeal to the young generation, which is trying to break, in some ways, from traditional Chinese culture.

And here comes Li Na and a campaign: “Be yourself.’’ Continue reading


FRENCH OPEN: Maria Sharapova Double-Faults away her Chance Again, Loses to Li Na. Will She and her Serve ever Come Back?

Maria Sharapova loses in the French semis

It was match point against Maria Sharapova, and everyone knew what was going to happen. The service box is 21 feet deep, 13½ feet across, and there was no way she was going to get her serve over the net and into that big box. It must look like a postage stamp to her. After the first serve was out, Li Na could have walked off the court, shaken the chair umpire’s hand and sat down.

There was no way Sharapova would get that second serve in.

“She had a huge, big serve,’’ Li said. “So I was like, `Please double fault.’  ’’

It happened, of course. Sharapova tried to put a little spin on the serve to control the ball, but she can’t do that. Instead, her arm slowed. . .way. . .down. . .mid-swing, and the ball went into the net. Li won 6-4, 7-5 Thursday to become the first Chinese woman to reach the French Open final. She’ll play defending champ Francesca Schiavone Saturday.

Sharapova hasn’t reached the final in her past 11 majors, since winning the 2008 Australian Open. She beat Ana Ivanovic that day, and women’s tennis had to be in heaven with a future looking bright and highly marketable. Since then, Sharapova and Ivanovic have totaled zero major finals, but countless swimsuit fashion shoots.

But this isn’t to rip into Sharapova.

In fact, it’s the opposite. Continue reading


Tweeting Up a Storm: Williams sisters’ Mom Makes `News’

My column on AOL Fanhouse

Oracene Price, mother of Venus and Serena Williams, has not tweeted in six days. I wanted to make sure I was the first to report that news. It is clear she’s embarrassed and angry by what she had tweeted before the women’s final of the Australian Open.

If you missed the little storm she created last week on Twitter, she said she was hoping Li Na would beat Kim Clijsters because she thought it “would be cool for a Chinese to win.” She also wrote, “Let’s say I’m not pulling for the other one. I dislike dubious people.”

It’s clear she hates Clijsters. People wrote to Price on Twitter, complaining that it was clear she’s racist against white people. Price also made some sort of comment comparing Clijsters to Medusa, clearly stating she thinks Clijsters is funny looking.

Look, the truth is that nothing is clear here at all, possibly not even to Price. This was a study in modern media and in Twitter itself. There is an entire Twitter world, and it’s unclear what it even is.

It means different things to different people. Tennis moms can use it in varying states of consciousness. Media types are using it mostly to try to stay on top of the game, and also to give instant analysis.

I use it, too, and can be found @gregcouch. To me, it is mostly for little throw-away, stream of consciousness type of thoughts, but not always. You don’t do much in-depth analysis in 140 characters, including spaces between words, to make your point. That’s all you get on Twitter. This paragraph blew past tweet length about two sentences ago. Continue reading


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