Fifth-seeded Li Na, playing with what she called nervous energy, beat 24th seed Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2 yesterday to become the first Chinese player to ever reach the semifinals of the US Open at Flushing Meadows.
The 31-year-old has been rolling all tournament, dropping only one set — the 6-7 one vs. Makarova. She now prepares to face depending champion Serena Williams, to whom she’s lost the last seven matches.
[Li] has already entered the record books as the first Chinese player through to an Australian Open final (2011, and again in 2013). In 2011, she became the nation’s first Grand Slam winner, capturing Roland Garros.
“I always try to be the first one,” smiled Li. “I [am] really proud for myself, because is the last Grand Slam… of the year, but I’m still fighting a lot on the court to try [my] best.”
It’s safe to say the aging star will be a sentimental favorite, partly due to recent attention brought about by a long New York Times profile, and partly because we want to believe in the possibility of a last hurrah. Xinhua reports that the crowd “showered her with cheers” after her quarterfinals victory, which is understandable. Everyone gets one more chance to deliver a curtain call.
This isn’t to say Li Na — though she has hinted at it in the past — is done with tennis, but at 31, how many more great runs does she have? China’s greatest ever tennis player will be taking Arthur Ashe Court on Friday, and we’ll be watching.
UPDATE: Li lost in straight sets to Serena, who was dominant.