Here's something I wasn't expecting to write: if Li Na had been facing almost any player other than Kim Clijsters yesterday, I would have given her good odds of winning her quarter-final after she took five successive games in the second set. I wouldn't have given the 24-year-old Chinese any real chance at the start.
But actually she was pretty darn good. And if it wasn't for her Belgian opponent's own desire to reach her second Wimbledon semi-final, and Clijsters' vastly greater experience at the business end of big tournaments, Li might just have found herself in the last four. She's not, but significantly she did look like she is starting to fit in - she did not look totally outclassed at this level. Her confidence will rise because of her satisfaction with her performance throughout the tournament. She's beaten Svetlana Kuznetsova, she's beaten Nicole Vaidisova - and came from a set down to win in three against both - and now she's given one of the best women in the world a run for her money. She's proved she can be a threat.
What she needs to do now is build on it. The foundations look fine: she's strong, has powerful groundstrokes and good movement. Her ethos is important, and representative of the upcoming Chinese players. Totally focused. On a mission. Supported by a country that not only demands success but is sure they will get it, which permeates through the system. You won't find any Chinese player partying, talking about fancy dresses or doing anything other than her job: winning tennis matches.
At a technical level, Li's game is based on good body foundation, strength in her lower body. That allows good set-up, and balance. That means she has timing on contact, and hence greater control over ball placement.
Li's mentality is also important. Clijsters was asked afterwards: "Li's tough?" To which she replied: "I can only agree." The mental toughness was illustrated when Li was a set and 2-0 down, and she won five games in a row. Later she even had a set point, serving at 5-3, and when Clijsters came back at her she saved two match points and remained in contention with some superb shots before going down.
One shot that stood out for me was Clijsters' first match point, the Belgian serving at 6-5. Li bludgeoned a double-handed crosscourt backhand bang into the corner, just in, to stay in it. Eventually her aggressive shots meant she over-hit one too many, but that was also down to Clijsters pressuring her. I expected Clijsters to win through hitting heavy balls and using spin, and that's what she ultimately did to get through.
I expected Maria Sharapova to beat Elena Dementieva, and she did, but what was most positive about Maria is she's starting to look really comfortable for the first time in the tournament. She powered through, and that will be a boost for her mentally.
What's so good about a leftie?
This week I'll answer some of the questions you've been sending to me along with your e-mail applications to win a one-month scholarship at my Florida academy. The prize is for one student (under-18s only), and includes tuition and board. Just tell me: how can I help you, and why? Harriette Withers e-mailed to say: "I'm a left-hander. Everybody tells me I'm so lucky to be a leftie. What advantages do you think it has?"
Two fairly obvious advantages are that lefties are relatively rare, so the majority of players (right-handers) are facing an increased threat of the unknown when they face lefties. And the leftie generally finds some shots easier: slaps, spin and the wide serve come to mind.
But the leftie's big advantage is thinking with the right side of the brain. I think lefties are more creative, they see the court differently. Some seem to perceive the sport in a way the rest can't grasp. Marcelo Rios, a leftie, was the most creatively talented player with whom I've ever worked.
Hewitt facing explosive test
Oh boy! Not only do we have the feast of Roger Federer-Mario Ancic today but the eyes of the tennis world will also be on the combustible match-up between the Aussie gunslinger, Lleyton Hewitt, and the Cypriot firecracker, Marcos Baghdatis.
I'm going to opt out of picking a winner: it can go either way. Do I believe an on-form Hewitt could win? Of course. But so can Baghdatis, who presents the toughest test yet for Lleyton.
Whatever the result, I won't be surprised. Baghdatis has earned his reputation now, by getting this far. Before this run to the quarters, some people might still have argued that his Australian Open final was a fluke. It wasn't. Baghdatis loves hitting, so Hewitt can't rely on a slugging match.
Baghdatis will have a lot of support. He even split the crowd against Andy Murray. He's a crowd pleaser. And when he's on his game, that's reflected in the audacity of his tennis. More clear cut is Rafael Nadal against Jarkko Nieminen, which I take Nadal to win in a maximum of four sets.
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