One year on, Li Na has returned to the scene of her greatest triumph as the 2012 French Open got underway on Monday.
It’s also the scene of Asia’s greatest triumph as the Chinese star became the first tennis player from the giant continent to win a Grand Slam singles title when she defeated Francesca Schiavone of Italy in straight sets.
She did the same in the opening round of her defense, cruising past Romania's Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-1, before making into the third round with an easy win over France’s Stephanie Foretz. It’s early days, but so far so good for the Wuhan native.
It hasn’t been the best of times since then – on the court that is. Off it, she has been raking in the cash after signing $42 million worth of endorsement deals. No wonder she says that she doesn’t feel the pressure.
“The worst thing is that there are so many people who say ‘She has the pressure, she is the defending champion. But I would like to tell the truth, I am not young anymore, I am 30 already,” said Li.
Since the famous win, she has failed to make an impact at a major. Weeks later, she went out of Wimbledon at the second round. That was one round further than she managed at the U.S. Open in September, after which she parted company with her coach – due to his supposed mild way of coaching.
2012 has been better and she is showing signs of returning to form.She was eliminated at the fourth round of the Australian Open. In the last few weeks in Europe, she has been looking better. She reached the final of a WTA event in Rome, and in the past couple of weeks reached the quarter-finals on clay in Stuttgart and Madrid.
“I’m not worried about forehands or backhands, it’s finishing the matches that is my problem,” Li told AFP. “There is not one player out there who gives up in a match, everyone is playing at such a high level. That’s my problem – I need to win easier. It’s a big problem for me to close out the matches.”
“I have to say that I feel physically great now,” she added.
She's looked it this week in Paris. There’s still a long way to go, but the whole of China is ready and waiting.