Li Na of China was the No. 5-seeded player in the recently completed WTA Championships. Expectations were high for her, not so much to win the event, but to perform as a solid contender.
Following her success at the start of the 2011 season when Li made the final of the Australian Open and then won the French Open at Roland Garros, expectations were high for the Chinese star.
However, following the French Open, Li has had virtually no impressive results on tour, with a semifinal appearance at New Haven the only result worth mentioning.
Many are speculating on the reasons for her decline. Bleacher Report contributor Jack Johnson has stated: "All the brilliance that was shown at Roland Garros has been hidden away. Her confidence is blown and there seems to be no answer."
Confidence could have something to do with it, but if you're looking at why Li has not turned in solid results since the French Open you have to look at two things: her age and her drive.
Li Na is almost 30 years old, and while that doesn't mean she's washed-up yet, we should definitely expect a decline in consistency. As of the October 24, 2011 rankings, Li was the oldest player in the top 10 with Stosur, who is more than two full years younger than Li, being the second oldest.
Li is the 10th-eldest player in the top 100 and she can't be expected to keep running with younger opponents.
Her ranking is definitely safe for the time being, but you have to think Li is going to nosedive following the 2012 Australian Open and especially following the 2012 French Open, as she seems unlikely to duplicate her results at those tournaments from last year.
However, aging is not the only reason for Li's decline. Another huge reason is simply that her drive has gone down.
When you look at Li's 2011 season, the French Open title is the definite focal point.
Li went from defeating the reigning Queen of Clay, Francesca Schiavone, in the championship match at Roland Garros to not being able to beat Daniela Hantuchova, Sabine Lisicki, Stosur, Petra Cetkovska, Simona Halep or Monica Niculescu in subsequent tournaments.
You have to wonder if Li felt so accomplished after winning the French Open that her personal drive went down a couple notches.
It's not something we haven't seen before in other players.
Svetlana Kuznetsova won the 2009 French Open and then turned in pretty crummy results for four months. Those results included losses to Aleksandra Wozniak, Sabine Lisicki, Stosur when she was ranked out of the top 15, a fading Amelie Mauresmo and Andrea Petkovic when she was ranked just 58th.
Did Kuznetsova lack the talent to win any one of those matches?
Of course not. However, a lot of tennis players lose their drive for a while after winning a Grand Slam.
Look at Petra Kvitova as another example. She went from winning Wimbledon this year to doing practically nothing in the hard court series leading up to the U.S. Open. Then, at Flushing Meadows, No. 48-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru knocks Kvitova out in the first round?
Winning a Grand Slam often leads to a player getting banged-up on tour, and that can negatively affect performances in ensuing events. However, winning a Grand Slam can also lead to relaxation. It's natural to let oneself down after spending so much energy achieving a career goal.
The ambition can come back, as Kuznetsova has titles to her credit since the 2009 French Open and Kvitova just won the world championship.
However Li's nearly 30 and she hit a windfall by winning the French Open. Confidence isn't the problem: she's getting up there in terms of age and her drive just hasn't been the same.