By Sean Hartnett
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Li Na has gone from a steely competitor to a forlorn figure in the short space of less than three months. After winning her first major at Roland Garros, it seemed that Na was ready to carry that momentum into the U.S. Open but fell to pieces before our eyes on Tuesday.
Na committed 54 unforced errors and looked exasperated as she struggled against 53rd ranked Simona Halep. The young Romanian pushed out Na in straight sets (6-2, 7-5.) Once again, Na exited the U.S. Open in the opening round for the second year in a row.
If it seemed like Na was imploding in the court, that was nothing compared to her post-match press conference where she let fly an expletive. Clearly, she was feeling a strong mix of frustration, disappointment and helplessness. “Now I even lose all the confidence on the court,” she said. “I was feeling, ‘Oh, tennis is just too tough for me. French Open is like three months (ago) already.”
It’s astounding to see how quickly Na fell from the perch of French Open champion to a first round loss at the U.S. Open. As her quotes suggest, she’s clearly a confidence player. Na fed off her confidence to reach the Australian Open Final and reign supreme at Roland Garros but her lack of it at Flushing Meadows led to her downfall.
Na was expected to go far this time around at the U.S. Open. The competitive spirit that helped her defeat Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open and Maria Sharapova at the French Open quickly evaporated when things weren’t going her way against Halep.
Tuesday’s shock exit proves that big stage events like the U.S. Open require as much mental strength as it does physical ability. Na was her own worst enemy and can only blame herself for not advancing into the second round.
Do you view Na’s first round defeat as mental breakdown? How far did you originally expect her to go and were you disappointed by her early exit? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.