On the one hand, Li Na will be 32 in February; her career is obviously closer to the end than it is to the beginning. On the other hand, she’ll be starting her third season with coach Carlos Rodriguez, in a partnership appears to still be gaining steam.
Last year was the most consistent of this famously inconsistent player’s career. After an early exit at the French Open in May, Li didn’t lose before the quarterfinals again, and she advanced to the semifinals—and the final—of the WTA Championships for the first time. The final product was a No. 3 year-end ranking, which was a career-high not just for her, but for any Asian tennis player. As with her fellow 30-something Serena Williams, the question for Li now is whether her recent momentum can keep her a step ahead of the inevitable aging process.
Ad-In: Now that she’s No. 3, Li would seemingly be set to win another major. She’s won the French Open and reached the final of the Australian Open twice. This year she has a chance to add another Slam title to that résumé. She has a better chance if someone else knocks Serena out of the draw.
Ad-Out: Half a season of steady play is certainly a positive sign. But the history of Li’s career as a whole says that she can’t sustain it forever. If things start to go bad again, can she avoid the type of months-long confidence loss that has brought her down in the past?
As we approach the new year, we'll take a closer look at what's in store for the past year's top performers. To read more of our 2014 Season Previews, click here.