Despite taking the first set 6-2, Li Na lost the final of the WTA Championships in Istanbul (the last before the end-of-season showpiece moves to Singapore next year), as world number one Serena Williams won the next two sets 6-3, 6-0. It was Serena’s 11th title of the year, and her 10th win in 11 games against Li Na, but after going into the game as a massive underdog, Li can be happy she at least forced a third set. Crucially, she now moves up to 3rd in the world rankings – a career high – by leapfrogging both Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Today marks the start of a big couple of weeks for Rory McIlroy in China. His second-place finish in last week’s Korea’s Open, despite an awful third round, would suggest he’s back to something approaching his best, but as the papers never fail to remind him, he remains without a win this year – and after five wins (including a major) in 2012, that’s quite a comedown. Here’s his upcoming schedule:
Tiger Woods and Ye Shiwen might make an unlikely couple, but both are prime examples of athletes who have lost their sporting mojos. This week’s Sports Talk column looks at why athletes struggle to get back to their top of their game after losing form:
We tend to think of sports as being a purely physical pursuit, but at the very top levels, it’s far more about mental strength than anything the body can do. Just as a novelist can get writer’s block and be paralyzed for months, once an athlete loses their sporting mojo, it can be very hard to retrieve.
Some thoughts for the weekend… I’ll say upfront that I’m not a huge fan of Forbes, particularly when it comes to their sports coverage, but their annual list of the world’s 100 highest paid athletes makes for interesting reading. Two things are clear: the money is still in the US – 63 of the athletes are American; 73 are US-based – but the sponsorship business is a global one.
Thursday was a mixed day of sport for China.
Let’s start with the good: 14-year-old golfer Guan Tianlang – he of Masters fame – looks well on his way to making his third cut in four PGA Tour events this year, playing at the Memorial Tournament at the invitation of Jack Nicklaus. Despite two bogeys in the last three holes, his even-par round of 72 was good enough for =41st place after Round 1. This is a strong field: 20 of the 120 players have one at least one major, and Guan is ahead of 12 of them.
Lists like SportsPro magazine’s Most Marketable Athletes [full list below] are equal parts inspired and enraging. I love the fact that Brazilian Paralympian Alan Oliveira (no. 17) is included, combining his age, talent and good looks with the undoubted boost to Brazilian sport that the next World Cup and Olympics will bring, almost as much as I hate the selection of Seth Jones (39), who is largely unknown even within his own sport, and, at 18, may not even play a single NHL game in the next three years even if he later develops into an All-Star.
Here’s my article in this month’s That’s Beijing magazine, which is now online, but was written before Dou Zecheng’s heroics at the China Open 10 days ago. The key to being the next Chinese golfing superstar? Money.
Last month, China’s 14-year-old golf sensation Guan Tianlang became not only the youngest player ever to tee off at the Masters in Augusta, but the youngest to make the cut at any PGA Tour event.
For all the attention lavished on Guan Tianlang last week, here’s a bit of context: his Weibo followers have swelled from about 20,000 a week ago to 28,000. Compare that to Chinese tennis star Li Na who has more than 21 million fans.
Numbers in China are notoriously hard to check, especially on a place like Weibo where fake and inactive accounts vastly outnumber real ones, but the point is clear: Guan barely registers on China’s sporting radar despite last week’s heroics. In fact, my guess is that his week at Augusta raised his international profile far more than his Chinese one, and that tells you everything about how far the game of golf still has to go here.
In a word, no – at least not this year – but now that he’s made the cut, how well can he realistically do?
The field of 93 has been pared down to 61, with Guan beginning Round 3 ranked tied for 55th with 6 other players (otherwise known as last equal). Obviously just making the cut is outstanding, but a top 50 finish is now a real possibility.
No particular China angle in this week’s Sports Talk column about Rory McIlroy, but I’m currently working on a piece about Chinese golf – and teen sensation Guan Tianlang in particular – which I will post once it’s in print. Here’s the piece:
When Rory McIlroy signed a multi-million-dollar endorsement deal with Nike earlier this year, most of the headlines focused on the bottom line. Those in the game, though, were quick to point out the risks.