Three is the Magic Number: Li Na Claims First Australian Open Title
Back in 1990, hip hop trio De La Soul released a single titled “The Magic Number” in which they state that the number “three” is the magic number. Well, fast forward to January 25, 2014 and the number “three” has become the magic number for China’s number one tennis player Li Na as she walked out of the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne as this year’s Australian Open women’s singles champion.
The newly third-ranked player in the world knocked off Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 7-6, 6-0 in a final that placed her as the heavy favorite for the first time as the likes of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Viktoria Azarenka fell out of contention.
Many would have written off the Wuhan native to win another major title after becoming the first Asian to win the French Open in 2011, but Li has gone on to prove her critics wrong. In fact, her victory in Melbourne should come as no surprise to anyone after her strong performances towards the end of last season. A semifinal finish at the U.S. Open along with a runner-up place at the 2013 WTA Tour Championships had to spell a positive finish to the year and a good prospect for the new year. A defense of her title at the 2014 Shenzhen Open gave Li good momentum ahead of the first major of the year. Now it can be proudly said throughout China that the champ is back.
If there is one person that can also take credit for Li returning to the top of her game is her coach, Carlos Rodriguez.
Known throughout the world as the former coach of former Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, the Argentine was brought in to coach Li in 2012. With his guidance and hard training sessions, the results have paid off and the tennis world has taken notice of a more aggressive and calmer Li Na in the past months.
Although there were glimpses of her looking dejected, which was shown in her matches against the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, Rodriguez has been successful in getting Li to immediately regain her composure and get back on track with the match.
Even in Saturday’s final the 31-year-old seemed frustrated in the first set when she could not find a way to finish off Cibulkova, leading to a tiebreak that Li ultimately won.
The second set showed just how dominant Li can be as she virtually gave the 24-year-old Slovak no chance whatsoever to get into the match. In the end it was no question that she deserved to claim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
While it has been reported that Li considered retirement after a couple of lackluster performances last season, it seems like 2014 will be a promising year. However, challenges still remain as many tennis fans will wonder if she can hold her own against the likes of Williams, Azarenka and a host of other top female tennis players who will certainly be looking to beat her wherever they may play in the world this year.
Another question is whether she can raise the bar even higher for Chinese tennis players by winning another major this year. There is no doubt that she will be a favorite once the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open come around. Depending on her form going into those tournaments, she will no doubt be one of the strongest competitors on the tour.
However, these and other questions can wait as people across China celebrate another Grand Slam win for Li who is one of the most liked players on the WTA tour.
- Sports Illustrated – Li Na overcomes shaky first set to beat Cibulkova, win Aussie Open
- Bleacher Report – Li Na Gaining Steam as Chinese Megastar with 2014 Australian Open Title
- ESPN – Li Simply Deserved to Win Aussie Open
- Fox News – Li Na breaks Australian Open drought, has crowd on its feet _ for her victory speech
- Washington Post – Li Na’s new approach to the Australian Open final
- Sydney Morning Herald – Coach Carlos Rodriguez reveals Li Na driven to the edge of retirement