LI, NA, WTA PLAYER OF THE YEAR

I have tried on several occasions to write the second in our series on contenders for the WTA: Player of the Year. You would think with 4 different Slam winners, 3 of them first time winners, that it would be easy to write the narrative for these awesome women of the WTA, and especially the narrative for Li Na, but this has been without a doubt the most difficult post I have ever written.

I think one of the reasons why I am finding it so difficult to write about Li is that I am intrigued and confused about Li. I have always been unimpressed with her style of play. There does not seem to be much imagination to her game, and her attitude on court leaves a lot to be desired. However, her press conferences and the paths that she has taken to winning her first Grand Slam title and being the first player from China to win a Grand Slam title has left me being intrigued and admiring of that aspect of her persona.

However some of her recent utterances have left me shaking my head in disgust as for a woman to basically imply that the women of the WTA are not as mentally tough as the men leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. I understand that there is a level of sexism that permeates the narrative about women’s tennis. It is either they are all lesbians; they are on steroids; or as some would say they are so muscular as to not even look feminine, the commentary about the women of the WTA has not always been, to put it politely, very tennis friendly.

However, when a champion such as Li, a champion who has overcome so many personal obstacles in her own life, to now be ranked as one of the biggest stars of the WTA, a signal of hope for a country’s women and a player who will now find herself in the conversation every time she enters a tournament, her recent utterances leave a lot to be desired and really sets back the progress that have been made by Billie Jean and the Gang of Nine in seeking equality and recognition for female professional tennis players.

In reviewing Li’s year, one could be asked how in the name of all that is holy did she manage to win a Grand Slam, beating the likes of Sharapova, the allegedly toughest player on the WTA mentally, or indeed beat defending champion Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. Li’s path to the final was filled with intrigue and drama. She played some tough matches but in the final, just as Schiavone did before, she played absolutely flawless tennis. She served well, returned even better, did not get down on herself, and took the opportunities when they were presented to her.
Li has won one other title this year, at Sydney, beating Australian Open champion Clijsters in what was a very good match.

There have been much written about Li’s slump since winning the French Open, but a quick check of her year in review on the WTA’s website shows an observer exactly what you usually get with Li. There is a reason why she has such a small number of titles since joining the Tour. In her first 5 tournaments, apart from reaching the final of Sydney and the final of the Australian Open, Li’s record at regular Tour events have been a series of 1st rounds, 2nd round etc. Her best performance at regular Tour events prior to the French Open were at Rome where she fell in the semifinals to Stosur and her win at Sydney.

By winning a Grand Slam, Li has put herself in the conversation for Player of the Year. She has qualified for the Year End Championships and one can only hope that despite her recent utterances of not being able to find her game, she will embrace the challenge of being a Year End Champion and play like the champion we know she can be.

Give us your thoughts on Li as WTA Player of the Year

Next up: Petra Kvitova