Will it be third time lucky for Li Na at the Australian Open? A dominant semifinal performance saw Li put Canada’s rising star Genie Bouchard firmly in her place, racing to a 5-0 first set lead in just 14 minutes, before cruising to a 6-2, 6-4 win.
Li will play Dominika Cibulkova – Slovakia’s first Grand Slam finalist – on Saturday evening in Melbourne and will start as the heavy favorite in her third Australian Open final in four years, against an opponent she’s never lost to in four matches. But in a tournament full of upsets, who’s to say there won’t be one more? Continue reading Li Na & sponsors hoping for Australian Open history→
Li Na cruised through to the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday with a 6-0, 7-6 win over Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, while Zheng Jie had a tougher battle, eventually downing American Madison Keys 7-6,1-6, 7-5. But for all the talk about China’s new generation of tennis players (here and elsewhere), Li and Zheng were the only two to make it out of the first round – from the eight who made the main draw.
China had a record eight players in the singles draw for the Australian Open. Of the five who played on Day 1, there were wins for Li Na (vs 16-year-old Croatian Ana Konjuh) and Zheng Jie (vs 12th seed Roberta Vinci), while wildcard playoff winners Wu Di and Tang Haochen both lost, as did Zhang Shuai, who had ended 2013 so well.
Chinese tennis player Wu Di, who made history earlier this year by becoming the first Chinese man to play in a Grand Slam tournament, has qualified for next year’s tournament via the same process – by winning the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff. The 22-year-old has not, by his own admission, had a good year, but said this gives him focus for the future. Wu also qualified for this year’s tournament, but lost in the first round to Croatia’s Ivan Dodig in four sets.
Li Na has just made it though to her first ever US Open semifinal, with a 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 victory over the 24th seed Ekatarina Makarova from Russia. It also means a Chinese woman has reached at least the semifinals in all four Grand Slam tournaments (after Li and Zheng Jie in Australia, Li at Roland Garros, and Zheng at Wimbledon). The result should finally consign last week’s drugs “scandal” to history.
Saturday’s Australian Open women’s tennis final will be an all-Nike affair as Li Na faces off against Victoria Azarenka. Nothing particularly unusual there, given that the US sportswear giant also sponsors Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. But Nike won’t quite have it all its own way.
That’s because Li Na has a deal – unique among Nike’s stable of tennis superstars that also includes Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – that allows her to have two other brands on her shirt in addition to the Nike swoosh. Those two? The well-known car company Mercedes-Benz, and the less well-known insurance company Taikang Life.
With Li leading the way, Mercedes has projected that China will be its biggest market by 2015, so paying $4.5 million to get the company’s logo on Li’s right sleeve for three years would seem to be money well spent.
I don’t mean to patronize Wu Di (吴迪), but his first round loss to Croatia’s Ivan Dodig at the Australian Open is still something to be celebrated.
The 21-year-old from Wuhan became the first Chinese man to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament in the professional era. He had qualified via a wildcard playoff in Nanjing last year, and despite an early break at the start of the match and a solid second set, he went down 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6.
No one – not the fans, not the bookmakers, not even Wu himself – expected the youngster to overcome the world number 74 in Melbourne. That much was clear from Wu’s post-match comments, when he conceded that Dodig is a much better player.