Li, Kvitova hope to break NY spell
New York hasn’t been kind to Petra Kvitova or Li Na over the last few years (some would say it’s been downright rude), but each former Grand Slam champion is currently carrying rejuvenated hopes of making a splash beneath the US Open’s bright lights in the days to come.
With both Li and Kvitova more than a year removed from career-defining Grand Slam triumphs (Li: 2011 French Open, Kvitova: 2011 Wimbledon) and the attention of the tennis cognoscenti planted squarely on Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, 2012 could provide the perfect opportunity for Li and Kvitova to make a deep US Open run while under the radar.
If results from post-Olympic events this summer are any indication, both Li and Kvitova have momentum on their side and plenty of confidence to burn.
After a final appearance in Montreal in early August, Li won her first title of 2012 a week later in Cincinnati with her newly anointed coach Carlos Rodriguez in her player’s box for the first time. Li is currently enjoying “honeymoon status” with Rodriquez, and her husband–good sport that he is–has been more than happy to step away from his full-time coaching role for the good of the team.
Li credits Rodriguez, who was Justine Henin’s longtime coach during her illustrious career, for helping her calm down and relax, saying “Until now I think I just follow what he say, just try to cool down on the court.”
If it seems like there are elements of Deja Vu to Li’s current situation, you’re right. Li is no stranger to vibing off the stylings of a new coach. The 30-year-old, who famously rode a fresh-out-of-the-box coach-player relationship with Michael Mortensen to a French Open title in 2011, appears to have a knack for responding to a new voice in her camp with her most inspired and confident tennis.
And Li is thrilled to have her husband and former coach Jiang Shan back in a more traditional supportive role too. “You know, I mean, after I change the coach, didn’t say my husband didn’t do a good job” she said on Monday. “I think he’s still doing good job. But for both sometimes it’s too much, you know. Like it’s really tough to find a balance between coaching and husband.”
Is it merely coincidence that Li’s recent run of dominating hard-court tennis has corresponded precisely with the arrival of Rodriguez in her camp? Doubtful.
Will Li be able to parlay the good vibes into her second Grand Slam title in New York? We’ll likely know more after we get to see a highly anticipated third-round encounter between Li and Kim Clijsters.
Kvitova’s hard-fought 7-6(6), 6-1 victory on Monday over Polona Hercog was shaky at times, but ultimately much better than her puzzling loss to Alexandra Dulgheru in the US Open’s first round last year. It was a passionless and unengaged Kvitova who committed 52 unforced errors in becoming the first Wimbledon champ in the Open era to suffer a first-round loss at the US Open in 2011, but this year Kvitova has put to rest a lot of the rumblings about her lack of consistency by becoming the only WTA player to reach the quarterfinals or better at all three Grand Slams.
One would think that the fast-playing hard courts in New York would be a boon for Kvitova’s hard, flat groundies and her wicked lefty serve, but until the last several weeks the 6’1” Czech has always underachieved on the North American hard courts.
An asthma sufferer, Kvitova has complained that the hot, muggy conditions make things excruciatingly difficult for her in the US at this time of year. This might explain the fact that Kvitova entered this year’s draw with a career record of 5-4 at the US Open, and she’s never been beyond the fourth round.
True to form, Kvitova appeared to be struggling to get enough oxygen Monday against Hercog on Grandstand. But Kvitova, who is high on confidence after winning her first North American titles in Montreal and New Haven en route to her Emirates US Open Series title this summer, appears dedicated to managing her asthma this year in New York, rather than letting it be the reason for her demise.
After a closely contested first set against Hercog, she won the match going away, in spite of her obvious discomfort.
With eleventh-seeded Marion Bartoli–whom Kvitova soundly defeated 6-1, 6-1 just a few weeks ago in Montreal–the highest-ranked player standing between the Czech and her first US Open quarterfinal, it appears that Kvitova is in prime position to prove that winning in New York is well within her reach.
The same goes for Li, albeit with a much tougher draw to contend with.
Perhaps Li summed up her chances in New York best when she spoke candidly with reporters on Monday after her first win their since 2009. “I don’t know what happen,” she said, “because last two years, I never win the one match in like Indian Wells, Miami, US Open.
“But this year something just working.”
Chris Oddo is a San Francisco-based freelance tennis writer who fell in love with tennis the first time he saw Martina Navratilova serve and volley. His work has been published in Tennis.com, USA today, SI.com and various other tennis publications.”