With Chinese New Year only days away, the number 3 (a good one in Chinese culture) loomed large for professional tennis star Li Na, who on Saturday beat Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (3), 6-0 to claim the 2014 Australian Open women’s single’s title in Melbourne, Australia.
Now, Li Na is a two-time grand slam winner, having won the French Open title in 2011. And, at 31, she’s the oldest player to win the Australian Open.
How significant is the number 3 in Saturday’s final? It was Li’s third Australian Open final in three years, having lost to Kim Clijsters in 2011, and to Victoria Azarenka in 2013.
And, having won today, Li will now be ranked number 3 in the world, edging out Maria Sharapova.
Oh yeah, and TV coverage of the match started at 3 a.m. Saturday on ESPN. At least this match didn’t go to 3 sets. (In her two previous finals in Melbourne, Li lost in 3 sets, after winning the first set in both appearances.)
Saturday, Li, the highest ranking player (4) remaining in the tournament after the Big 3 (Serena Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka) were all knocked out by the end of the quarterfinals, was serving at set point before losing 3 straight points, sending the first set into a tiebreaker. Li won the tiebreaker 7-3 (see that, another 3).
Even though Li jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening set, it was pretty obvious she was battling nerves, as she committed 19 unforced errors just off her forehand. But while Cibulkova had dominated in her earlier matches, easily and boldly dispatching the likes of Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska, the Slovakian was feeling the pressure of playing in her first ever championship match.
And, even though she came into the match feeling confident she could win, she finally was facing someone she couldn’t push around.
On the contrary, she found herself dominated against Li who was able to easily push her around, even while Li struggled to find her rhythm.
The first set lasted 70 minutes, with both players alternating between great shots and missed opportunities, but once Li won the tiebreaker, she settled in and played her game, overwhelming Cibulkova en route to a 6-0 second set that lasted only 27 minutes.
This time, Li was dialed in, hitting forehand and backhand winners on the base line and both sidelines. She dropped only 4 points on serve.
After the match, Li was her usual charming and funny self, delivering an acceptance speech that had the stadium rocking with laughter, as she recognized each member of her team in almost roast-style fashion.
OK, enough of the sports writing. Time to treat this as a blog. My blog. My way.
And since this blog is about all things pantyhose, I must give props to WTA analyst and former World No. 1 professional tennis player Chris Evert (winner of 18 Grand Slam women’s singles titles) who not only did a great job calling the match along with Cliff Drysdale, but who presented the trophies to both players.
Chris surprised me, wearing a nice dress with high heels and sheer pantyhose. I say surprised because every time I’ve watched pregame commentary by the former female players/now analysts, they are dressed extremely casually on the set sometimes in dresses, but always “bear”-legged, even though their male counterparts are wearing suits and ties.
So I’m proud of Chris for dressing appropriately for the occasion, as I can’t imagine even one of the other big-name former champions/analysts would have worn heels and hose in that situation.
(I couldn’t find a picture of Chris in that outfit to show you here, but you can catch a glimpse of her in this video of the awards presentation.) http://tennis.si.com/2014/01/25/li-na-australian-open-victory-speech/
In case you’re wondering, there are three (get that, 3 again?) reasons I’m writing this post here:
First, I was encouraged by seeing that you’ve been reading the first post I wrote about Li Na when I “discovered” her in 2011 and became a fan.
Second, I am so happy she won a second grand slam, I can’t sit back and not write about her.
Third, unlike last time, this time, I actually have some pictures of Na wearing pantyhose. There’s the justification!
Still, this post will be different from what you’re used to getting from me. You might not want to read this one unless you’re a WTA fan, and particularly, a Li Na fan.
If you do read this one, at least you’ll get a different insight into who I am outside of ActSensuous.
And besides, I have enough pics of Li Na in pantyhose, I need to write a lot to have a place to fit the pictures in. So, if nothing else, you can just enjoy the pictures and move on without really reading all this.
How it started
I had only just started regularly watching The Tennis Channel on DirecTV, and I grew to like Jelena Jankovic. I thought JJ was very feminine and I liked her game. But I had been growing weary of her drama queen antics, and then happened to see a Li Na match. I had never heard of Li Na, even though she had been a professional on the WTA since 1999.
I wish I had been following tennis back then so I could have seen more Li Na matches. Next month, Na (going with her first name at this point in the post) will turn 32, so I don’t know how much longer she’ll be playing.
Anyway, I loved what I saw. Na is such a combination of grace, elegance, beauty (best legs in the WTA) and power. Amazing that the first few matches I saw were during Na’s road to winning the tuneup match prior to the 2011 Australian Open, in which she beat the likes of powerhouse Petra Kvitova and the ever dangerous Kim Clijsters. Then, she got to the final match of the Australian Open 2011, where she lost to Clijsters, but won an entire country with her charm and sense of humor during post match interviews.
Wow, I had a female tennis hero. I had been watching the ATP and was an Andrei Agassi fan, then after Agassi retired, I really started liking Roger Federer. But now, I was watching the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) on The Tennis Channel to see Li Na play. She was an incredible shot-maker and a sharpshooter, painting the sidelines and baselines. Her style was all out, and when that wasn’t working, Plan B was to hit the ball even harder.
I fell in love with Li Na and was so happy and proud of her when she became the first Asian player in history to play in a final (that 2011 Australian Open).
Later, Na made history again when she became the first Asian player (man or woman) to win a grand slam event (the 2011 French Open).
But then everyone saw what happened to Na’s psyche once she gained rock star status in China, and a ton of pressure descended on her to do it again. That, combined with the added pressure of being among the highest paid athletes for sponsors, such as Nike, Mercedes, Haagen Daz, etc., saw her go through the 2012 season winning only one tournament (not a grand slam event) toward the end of the year.
It was difficult to watch Na in 2012 because she should have won so many matches that slipped away in the end because of the pressure, her nerves and a new-found doubt.
Enter new coach Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of Justine Henin, who struck up a partnership with Na. It would prove to be the best thing to happen for Li Na’s career, as he took immediate steps to adjust Na’s game. And, perhaps, more importantly, her psyche.
Rodriguez put Na through a training regimen that would have challenged Navy SEALS. Then, he worked on her forehand and her serve. All the TV analysts love to talk about how Na’s forehand is the first part of her game to break down. They do say her backhand is the best in the game, but, oh, that forehand. Alright, already. I love Na’s forehand.
When she is in the zone, that forehand cross court shot is devastating. And I’ve seen her win a great many points with tat forehand. But, in all fairness, Rodriguez did reign it in a bit by getting Na to add a little top spin to control it.
Also, thankfully, Rodriguez changed Na’s service motion, which has added a little more power and consistency to it, and lately, that serve has been winning her some free points, or setting the tone for her to take charge of the point from the start.
But the biggest thing is Rodriguez has really worked to improve Na’s emotions. I knew Na needed an infusion of confidence, but I hadn’t realized how bad things had gotten for her until Saturday when the analysts pointed out that Na earlier confided in Rodriguez that, while so many others believed in her, she didn’t truly believe in herself.
Apparently, all the years she played tennis (started at 8 years old and turned pro at 16), she never got a single compliment about her tennis from any coach in China. That, along with her almost overnight star power caused Na much stress, as the expectations of an adoring world made it more and more difficult for her to focus during tennis matches.
Rodriguez may be the best coach Li could have, as he has spent a great deal of time reassuring Na and teaching her how to keep her composure during a match, and to forgive herself when she makes a bad shot, as part of the problem is Na is very hard on herself.
OK, there’s one other reason I am writing this post about Li Na, and if you’re looking for a place to bail out of this post, here it is. (I’d stop reading if I were you.)
Then again, this is where you’ll see a slightly different side of me.
This time last year, Na was in position to win the 2013 Australian Open.
Because I am a DirecTV subscriber and have the Tennis Channel, I was able to see every match Na played in the 2013 Australian Open. She looked so much more powerful and confident.
But I was concerned when Na had to play Agneiszka Radwanska in the quarterfinal match. Radwanska, at that time, was undefeated in 2013 and hadn’t dropped a single set on the year.
That match, I thought, would tell me whether Na was ready to contend for another championship title.
I was excited but nervous when Na won a tight first set, 7-5, Radwanska’s first loss in something like 26 or 28 sets I think. But then, Na dominated in the second set, winning it 6-3. I was starting to believe, yet, I still wondered whether Na could carry that over against Maria Sharapova in the semifinal match next.
OK, here’s that side you haven’t seen of me before:
Sharapova — or as I like to call her, “Shriek-a-pova” (because she’s the second-most annoying player of the WTA with that loud, obnoxious war cry on every single shot), had lost only nine games during the Australian Open heading into the match against Li. But Na destroyed Shriekapova in straight sets 6-2, 6-2. To me, Na looked ready to capture her second Grand Slam championship, and because this was the Australian Open, I thought it could actually happen.
In the final, Na would face Azarenka, THE most annoying player of the WTA. I hate Azarenka (whom I call Ass-a-renka since she makes an ass out of herself with that stupid shriek of her’s on every single shot, including her serve), only slightly more than I hate Shriekapova.
So, that Friday night 2013, I couldn’t sleep. And on Saturday morning, I watched, I cheered for Na, I spoke to Na through the TV, encouraging her every step of the way. And when Na took the first set 6-4 (she could have/should have won it 6-2), I was feeling good.
And even when Assarenka went up 3-0 in the second set, I didn’t panic. I know Na can overcome 0-3. And, I figured if this went to three sets, it favored Na because she’s the better mover, her conditioning is better, and, hey, it’s the Australian Open. I loved how 90 percent of the crowd was for Na. In fact, as the match went on and Assarenka got nastier and nastier, I couldn’t believe anyone other than her coach and her boyfriend, Bozo the Clown, could possibly cheer for her.
But secretly, I was worried. As much as she disgusts me, I have to say that Assarenka is tough. She seems perfectly comfortable being the bad guy, and I was afraid the hostile crowd that cheered voraciously every time Assarenka missed a shot, and booed her every time she had words with the chair umpire or slapped a ball down the court after making an error, might backfire by making her more determined. I was also a bit concerned that the overwhelming support for Li might creep into Na’s psyche. Who knows how these things work?
Turn for the worst
As I knew she would, Na overcame the 0-3 start in the second set, but I was stunned and extremely upset to see my hero roll her left ankle and fall.
The pain on her face scared me, especially, when she couldn’t put any weight on her leg. Along with the estimated 20,000 spectators who sat in stunned silence, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
But I know Li Na is tough, and I was not surprised when, after the tournament training staff wrapped her ankle, she was able to continue. She even leveled the set at 4-4. And when she eventually lost that second set 4-6, I still believed she would win the third set and claim the trophy.
But with Na ahead in the third and final set 2-1, a scheduled fireworks show to commemorate Australia Day delayed play for 9 minutes. I sensed a bad omen: It was a momentum-killer and it forced Li to sit in the cold night air (Australia time), which was not good for her swollen ankle.
And, sure enough, after play resumed, and during the first point, Na rolled the same ankle while chasing a shot wide to her backhand side.
This was almost unbelievable to me and the capacity crowd, but worse, this time, the fall caused Li to smack the back of her head hard on the court. My heart sank. Only this time, I wasn’t worried about the match — I was worried about Na.
Along with the crowd, I gasped at the site during the many replays. Everyone sat in disbelief and stunned silence as doctors rushed on to the court to evaluate Li.
And then it happened. During the concussion test, Na, in her ever-endearing style, seemingly embarrassed over all the attention, broke into laughter. Later, she said during an interview she thought it was funny that this was happening on a tennis court and not in a hospital.
But when she laughed, the crowd broke out into laughter too. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. Na is such a sweetheart, such a good sport, such a great person. What a little angel. She said that for a couple of seconds she lost her vision. It was a scary moment, but here she was lightening the moment with her cute personality, once again filling the crowd with a sense of awe for this magnificent, yet, humble and all too human a champion.
So many factors were working against Li Na. The cool weather after it had been so hot for most of the tournament, the falls (the first in her professional career), the 9-minute delay of the match for the fireworks show, the overwhelming support of the crowd, all combined to doom Li Na’s chances to win her second Grand Slam event. I wanted it for her so badly because I believed it would validate her, and restore her confidence once and for all. And because the Australian Open is her Grand Slam tournament. It her favorite event, and Li Na is so loved by most everyone there.
As it turned out, Li Na did what she always does – she was gracious, she was cute and funny. She joked about falling, saying it was “Because I’m stupid.” She vowed to be back better than ever.
But the ankle injury was more serious than anyone knew, and it took longer than expected for Na to return. She missed a lot of tennis, and when she did come back, she played well, but didn’t win much the rest of the year.
So, it’s last night Jan. 24, 2014 and Li Na is a finalist again in the Australian Open. It seems like there is justice in sports that Na has another chance to win grand slam event she covets most. The match would be aired at 3:30 a.m. today (Saturday). I thought about going to sleep and recording the match on my DVR so I could watch later and just blow through the commercials.
But who was I kidding? I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. Besides, I wanted to be there for every second of the match. I wanted to be part of each point, talking to the TV, cheering after each winning rally and encouraging Na after each lost point.
I am her devoted fan. I couldn’t not watch her match in real time. I didn’t want the result to already have happened without me there to help.
My stomach was in knots at 3 a.m. I wish I had known then about the good fortune that is the number 3 in Chinese culture. It might have helped me relax a little.
Chinese tradition considers 3 a lucky number. Three has its origin in Confucianism and Taoism. It stands for Heaven, Earth and Human being; philosophically, Tao means the amiableness among the above three elements. http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/lucky-number3.htm
The number 3 is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture. The number 3 is significant since there are three important stages in a man’s life (birth, marriage and death). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_in_Chinese_culture
In Mandarin, Number 3 sounds like the word, life, so it is considered a good number. http://www.chinese-traditions-and-culture.com/chinese-lucky-numbers.html
A charming New Year?
“Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality.
(Chinese New Year begins Friday Jan. 31, 2014 — the year of the horse.)
“Those born in horse years are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands.”
We know Li Na is all of those things, especially, witty and good with a tennis racket in her hands.
Happy Chinese New Year, Li Na .
I hope you win the next three slams this year (French Open, Wimbledon and US Open).
Either way, at least you won the one you were made to win – the Australian Open.
Congratulations, Li Na.