The value of getting grass-court matches under your belt in the build-up to Wimbledon was underlined in decisive fashion here as Li Na, the world No 2, went out of the tournament in the third round. The 32-year-old Chinese had decided not to play any tournaments en route to the All England Club and her ring-rustiness showed as she was beaten 7-6, 7-6 by the Czech Republic’s Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
While Li was trying to hone her game on the practice court two weeks ago, Zahlavova Strycova was winning five matches on grass at the Aegon Classic in Edgbaston before losing in the final to Ana Ivanovic. Li has usually played at Eastbourne in the week before Wimbledon but chose this year to take a break from competition following the French Open.
“I’ve always played Eastbourne, but it’s always rainy and windy,” Li said ruefully. “I said: ‘OK, I cannot practise in that.’ I decided that maybe I should change a little bit. I came here pretty early to try to play on the grass courts.
“I think I made the wrong decision. I need to play some matches before. It’s not only about technique. I think sometimes I don’t know how to play the point, especially in the important moments. Today I made a lot of mistakes.”
Zahlavova Strycova, the world No 43, is through to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time at the 33rd attempt. “Grass suits my game because I play chip and charge,” she said. “I like to play volleys, I like to mix up my game, I play slice.” The 28-year-old, who returned to competition last April after a six-month ban for taking a banned stimulant, had never previously beaten a top-10 player. She now meets Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Croatia’s Ana Konjuh 6-3, 6-0.
Wozniacki enjoyed good support from the crowd but insisted afterwards that she does not need sympathy following her split with the golfer Rory McIlroy. “My private life has nothing to do with my tennis,” she said. “I think everyone here wants to make me a victim. I’m not a victim. I’m just playing tennis.”