The women's draw at the 2014 French Open seemingly contains a small handful of top contenders, but what little depth there was took a major hit Tuesday when No. 2 seed Li Na was upset by Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round.
Li's defeat was shocking on several fronts, considering she won the Australian Open earlier this year and won the French Open back in 2011. The Aussie Open champion on the men's side, Stanislas Wawrinka, also fell in the first round at Roland Garros on Monday, making this year's first round truly historic, according to ESPN Tennis:
Mladenovic is a 21-year-old native of France who has never advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament and is ranked No. 103 in the world. This also marks just the second time in her young career that she has made it to the second round at Roland Garros in her sixth appearance.
ESPN's Chris McKendry weighed in on the outcome and noted Mladenovic's lack of experience against top players:
The victory was unquestionably the biggest of Mladenovic's career thus far, and she celebrated in appropriate fashion, as seen in this photo courtesy of the Roland Garros Twitter account:
Mladenovic surprised Li early by taking a 1-0 lead in sets, but Li was able to battle back to take the second. After she leveled the match, the assumption was that Li had momentum on her side, but that clearly meant little to Mladenovic.
The lanky power hitter used a big serve and virtually mistake-free tennis in the third set to vanquish her foe. With Li making 37 unforced errors to Mladenovic's 25, the veteran has nobody to blame but herself for the tough loss.
Per Sports Illustrated, Li commented after the match: "The problem is myself. I don’t think I’m doing well on the court. And also, even during the match, I don’t think totally [about] what I should do, like especially I didn’t follow the game plan. … In my mind, I didn’t have any idea how to play the match."
The 32-year-old Li is best known for her hard-court prowess, but she has had success on clay in the past. In fact, her first career Grand Slam championship came at the 2011 French Open. Aside from that one run, though, the Chinese superstar hasn't made it past the fourth round at Roland Garros.
There are no guarantees in the sport of tennis, but it seemed as though Li had advanced to the point where these types of upsets would be few and far between. Based on her recent comments to Paul Newman of The Independent, she seemed to have the proper mindset for an elite player.
Tennis has changed a bit. It's not just about technique. You have to stay stronger. And as you get older you get more experienced. When I come to the court now I know exactly what I should do. I take more care of myself away from the court. I know what's good for my recovery, I'm careful with what I eat.
Now that Li is out of the running, that solidifies defending champion Serena Williams and defending runner-up Maria Sharapova even more as the top two contenders in Paris. Both cruised to straight-set victories over their first-round opposition.
Li was likely considered by most to be a notch below them regardless, but she was still viewed as a definite threat to make a deep run, perhaps even to the final.
With the win, Mladenovic will now face American Alison Riske in what should be an intriguing second-round matchup of up-and-coming talent.
The manner in which the bracket is set up could very well lead to a showdown between Serena and Sharapova in the quarterfinals with the winner of that match becoming the overwhelming favorite to take home the hardware.
Li would have been an interesting challenge for either woman in the final, but that is no longer the case. Li's loss now opens up the bottom half of the bracket in a major way with Jelena Jankovic, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic all looking like potential finalists.
There has been a lot of unpredictability in women's tennis in recent months, and this result proves that any player can beat another in any given match, even on a stage as big as the French Open.
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