That was impressive. I knew Li Na could beat Maria Sharapova. We all did. But given how Masha was absolutely crushing her opposition, setting records for fewest games lost as the rounds progressed, it appeared that Li Na would need no less than her best tennis to overcome Sharapova in a contest between the two highest paid female athletes in the world. You know what? Li Na absolutely brought her A game and then some. It is true that Masha didn’t help herself any, double faulting her first two serves and eventually being broken. She seemed frustrated, constantly staring at her box. But the problem wasn’t the game plan her coach (and Li Na’s former coach) Thomas Högstedt devised-attack Li Na’s streaky forehand. The problem was, that forehand stayed dialed in. And furthermore, for all of her brilliance, Masha has never seemed to have plan B. If bashing the ball and overpowering an opponent doesn’t work, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her start mixing in a variety of spins, changing speeds or coming to net more. In this match plan A didn’t work. It reminded me of the 2011 Australian Open final when Li Na was totally outplaying Kim Clijsters. However, Kim went to plan B, doing the things I mentioned and it rattled Li Na. Kim went on to win the championship match.
The “then some” I referred to about Li Na was that not only did she bring in extra physical dimensions to her game, including extra spin and variety on her forehand, she didn’t once start snipping at her player’s box or talk to herself. And before you say, well she was winning handily, I’ve seen Li Na find things to break her concentration even when winning. Everybody who follows women’s tennis closely knows Li Na can be brilliant and then mentally go away for stretches, which lends itself to her streakiness. The change? Like many, I point to bringing former Justine Henin coach Carlos Rodriguez aboard Team Li Na. He’s helped her shotmaking and fitness, but more importantly he’s helped her temperment. If Li Na can duplicate her semifinal performance in the final, a tough task to be sure, she will be tough to beat.
I thought after 2012, we were done with drama surrounding Victoria Azarenka, but it seems drama has found her again. She is being taken to task for calling for a trainer and taking a 10 minute injury time-out after failing to convert 5 match points up 5-3 in the 2nd set against overnight media darling Sloane Stephens. Let me take to task all of the media throwing insults Vika’s way. Yes, I saw the interviews where she is basically describing a panic attack. At the same time, that’s in hindsight. If the woman says she had a back injury and rib issues, making it hard to breathe, who are we to dispute that without any evidence to the contrary? After all, this is Vika, who has suffered from heat stroke at a previous Australian Open and collapsed on the court from a head injury at the US Open. Unless you can prove she was lying, if she says she is having trouble breathing, you have to take her off the court and deal with it. Would you rather she collapse on court? That’s a headline tennis doesn’t need…”#1 Tennis Player Suffers Heart Attack On Court After Being Refused Treatment By Training Staff.”
As for those saying, well you only get 3 minutes per injury time out, 6 minutes maximum if there are two injuries, that almost never happens. Injury time-outs run long all the time. I don’t even blink at that. Now, am I saying Vika wasn’t lying or engaging in gamesmanship? Not at all. I am saying that since we can’t definitively prove it, we have to take her word. Like she said in her press conference, she has enough experience to bounce back from the blown match points. She was still on the verge of winning anyway. More than that, I think some in the media are exhibiting sour grapes. I believe that if the positions were reversed and Sloane Stephens called a questionable injury time-out, regrouped and came back to beat Vika, a lot of American announcers would brush aside the controversy and congratulate Sloane for her savvy, veteran-like move. I am an American. I love Sloane Stephens, too. I was writing about her on my blog before she broke through against Serena Williams. However, on this day she was beaten by a player who is currently better than she is. One day, maybe in the not too distant future, the tables will be turned.
ALL PICS CLICK TO ENLARGE
LI NA def. Maria Sharapova, 6-2 6-2
VICTORIA AZARENKA def. Sloane Stephens, 6-1 6-4