2012 French Open Previews: Li Na
She is the defending champion, but given Li’s nature, you have to wonder what that really means. The closest thing the WTA has to an enigma, Li comes in and out like the signal of radio station when you’re barreling through the rural countryside. Just when everyone seems ready to declare her finished—and she is, after all, 30 years old—she up and plays some excellent tennis.
Li did just that in Rome, the last big event before Roland Garros. Although she squandered a huge lead in the final against Maria Sharapova, she mounted a huge comeback of her own to earn a match point before capitulating in a third-set tiebreaker. Before that, Li was a quarterfinalist in her last four events, the last two of which included tough three-set losses to Agnieszka Radwanska (Stuttgart) and Victoria Azarenka (Madrid).
Given how up-and-down Li has been through her entire career—not only is she a Grand Slam champion, she also left the tour for a long period to attend college—her recent consistency is encouraging.
Reason to Hope: Li is feeling it again, and her compact game and excellent movement make her look like the second coming of that other great clay-courter, Chris Evert.
Reason to Worry: As the defending champ and first-ever Grand Slam singles titlist from Asia, Li will be feeling tremendous pressure, and she may no longer have the mental and emotional reserves to play her best for seven matches.
The Last Word: It’s hard to say what being the defending champ means to different individuals, but if Li’s sense of pride is stronger than her susceptibility to the pressure, she could surprise us once again by winning it all.