Li Na, who became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam singles final last month in Melbourne, came a disappointing cropper by missing four successive match points and lose her opening match in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last night.
The fifth-seeded world No 7 was 6-2 up in the second set tie-break against Yanina Wickmayer, the world No 25 from Belgium, but, after failing to convert any of them, slid frustratingly to a 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (10/8), 6-2 defeat.
There had been signs of rustiness from Li in the first set when she was unable to convert her first two set points, and again in the second set, when she failed to convert three break points in a row.
But having got to within one good blow of victory in the second set, it seemed certain that her more complete all-court game and better ground-stroking angles would get her over the line.
Instead, Wickmayer played by far her most consistently forcing tennis on the four match points, and after taking the contest into the decider saw Li's standard fall away sharply. The last four games tumbled quickly in the direction of the unseeded player.
Asked if it were the best win of her career, Wickmayer said:"Probably, yes. She's a top ten player, and she's a great player, and she played really well at the beginning of the year, so I am very, very happy."
Wickmayer is coached by her father Marc, but has just given a three-month trial to Vladimir Platenik, about whom she said: "I hope he's really happy."
Wickmayer next plays Shahar Peer, the first Israeli woman ever to compete in the UAE, who reached the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Alexandra Dulgheru, a top 30 player from Romania.