x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Wimbledon: Up and down match for Li Na but she pulls out win

Sixth seed responds after lapse against Simona Halep while top seed Serena Williams dominates in straight sets.

A little down time almost cost sixth-seeded Li Na, but she pulled out the victory Thursday. Gerry Penny / EPA
A little down time almost cost sixth-seeded Li Na, but she pulled out the victory Thursday. Gerry Penny / EPA

LONDON // No matter how much work is done on the practice court, how much tactical input is given, how many motivational words are said, tennis coaches are powerless if their player self-destructs in front of their eyes.

That was the case at Wimbledon on Thursday as Carlos Rodriguez watched his ward, Li Na, go walkabout in the second set before pulling herself together to beat the Romanian Simona Halep 6-2, 1-6, 6-0 on a sun-bathed Court 2.

The sixth seed, China's first grand slam champion when she triumphed at the French Open in 2011, eased through the opening set, but after sitting idle in her seat while Halep received treatment to her back, she fell apart.

As each error flew off the strings of the 31-year-old Li's racket, the Argentine Rodriguez, the man responsible for steering Belgium's Justine Henin to No 1 in the world, sank a little deeper into his seat, a look of resignation on his face.

"She didn't manage that time in the right way," Rodriguez said, when asked if the stoppage had caused the meltdown that threatened to see another high-profile seed fall out of the tournament.

"She lost her adrenalin. Li helped her opponent a lot to come back into the match. We have to continue to work on it. She has to be able to manage that.

"She went out of the match a little bit but I'm happy that she recovered to produce some good tennis."

He said being a coach was as much about psychology as the mechanics of the strokes.

"It all depends on her, really. I'm happy, but there's a lot of work to be done. There were two different players there today, in the first and the third sets, compared to the second.

"I'll let her talk to me about the second set," Rodriguez added. "She had the problem, I don't know. For me, it's unacceptable."

The post-match conversation between Li and Rodriguez would have been an interesting one.

"I didn't talk to Carlos because I think he went to see the next opponent," said Li, who next faces the No 32 seeded Czech Klara Zakopalova. "When I see him I will say, 'Please kill me right now!'

"I don't know what happened in the second set."

Serena Williams did a better job of taking care of business Thursday, 24 hours after Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki crashed out of the tournament.

The world No 1 muscled her way past Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-2 and then summed up what a daunting prospect her rivals face every time they tackle her.

"I wouldn't want to play me at 21 or 31," said the 31-year-old top seed, who is looking to draw level with Federer's haul of 17 grand slam titles.

She was declared the overwhelming favourite for the title before a ball had been struck in anger this week and, after Wednesday's chaos, it seems unlikely anyone will be able to topple her.


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