Li Na’s French Open Reign Ends as Surprise Losses Continue

A backhand into the net ended Li Na’s reign as China’s first French Open champion, ensuring that a newcomer will win the women’s tennis title at Roland Garros.

A year after the 30-year-old Li became the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title, she lost her fourth-round match to qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0. Li made 41 unforced errors as the wind swirled around the Court Suzanne Lenglen, 20 more than her 142nd-ranked opponent from Kazakhstan.

“This is tennis,” the seventh-seeded Li said in a news conference. “I was sad when I lost. Right now, I want to totally relax the mind and body. I need some time to recover. I’m not a machine.”

No woman left in the draw has won the title at Roland Garros, with second-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia the highest-ranked player remaining. The French is the only Grand Slam tournament Sharapova hasn’t won.

In the men’s quarterfinals today, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga plays top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who’s trying to win his fourth straight major title to complete a non-calendar Grand Slam. Roger Federer of Switzerland, who holds the men’s record with 16 Grand Slam singles titles, faces 2009 U.S. Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina.

U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur of Australia meets Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova in the women’s quarterfinals today, while Italy’s Sara Errani plays Germany’s Angelique Kerber.

Women’s Upsets

Li’s departure comes after a week of upsets in the women’s draw. Thirteen-time major singles champion Serena Williams lost in the first round to France’s Virginie Razzano. The American, the champion a decade ago, had never before lost in the opening round of a major. Third seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland was knocked out in the third round by former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, while women’s top seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was ousted in the fourth round by Cibulkova.

Sharapova yesterday overcame Klara Zakopalova 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2. There were 21 breaks of serve in the match, which ended with a double fault by the unseeded Czech.

“I have no control of who wins and loses except in my matches,” Sharapova said in a news conference, when asked about the upsets. “Those are just things I can see and hear about and those are just results.”

The Russian, who won a clay-court tournament in Rome the week before the French Open, will reclaim the No. 1 world ranking if she reaches the final.

Li’s Pressure

In an interview at the Rome Masters shortly before Roland Garros, Li said it took her six months to adjust to her new status as a Grand Slam champion. She has signed $42 million in endorsement deals since winning the title in Paris, in a final that was watched by 116 million viewers in China alone. This week at Roland Garros, some of her matches were watched by 50 million Chinese viewers, organizers said.

“I knew before the match that she’s defending champion, and she has pressure to hold on to the title,” Shvedova said in a news conference.

Li has struggled in the majors since last year’s French title. She was knocked out in the second round of Wimbledon last June, the opening round of the U.S. Open in August and the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.

Li said she’ll take some time off after her defeat in Paris.

“I can’t pick up the racket the next day to train as hard as I can,” she said. “So of course I will take some days off to totally forget tennis. Then try to come back in next week. My next tournament is Wimbledon.”

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