Never-say-die Zheng Jie was hailed for her ‘crazy’ tennis at Wimbledon by champion Serena Williams 12 months ago and under-pressure compatriot Li Na couldn’t be happier.
World number six Li, China’s first Grand Slam champion when she won the French Open in 2011, will go into Wimbledon next week in the unusual position of not being her country’s favourite to progress into the second week.
The 31-year-old’s best performances at the All England Club remain two runs to the quarter-finals in 2006 and 2010.
But it’s Zheng, the world number 47, who can boast the better record at the season’s third Grand Slam, having reached the semi-finals in 2008, two years after she and Yan Zi took the women’s doubles title.
Zheng, who will turn 30 next month, pushed world number one Williams to a tough three-setter in the third round last year with the American edging the decider, 9-7.
“After we finished the match, she just told me, You are crazy. You are crazy,” said Zheng.
The American had also ended her historic run in 2008.
“I was like, ‘I just want to get this over’. She played really well, I think she played unbelievable,” admitted Williams.
Li, meanwhile, heads for London having seen her halo slip in the aftermath of her tetchy 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 second round French Open defeat to unseeded American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
At her post-match press conference in Paris, Li reacted tersely when asked if she had an explanation for her fans at home.
“Do I need to explain?” she said. “It’s strange. I lost a match and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologise to them?”
On the men’s side, Asia’s best hopes of representation in the second week reside with Florida-based Japanese star Kei Nishikori, this week at a career-high of 11 in the world.
“He’s a player with a lot of talent,” said the Spaniard. “I think he’s a candidate to be top 10 without any doubt.”
Nishikori failed in his quest to become just the second Japanese man to reach the last eight in Paris after Jiro Satoh, who made the quarter-finals in 1931 and 1933.
At Wimbledon, he will be aiming to better Shuzo Matsuoka who made the quarter-finals in 1995 before losing to Pete Sampras. That remains Japan’s best men’s performance at the tournament.
Nishikori’s best run came last year where he reached the third round before he came unstuck against giant Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro.
Meanwhile, Kimiko Date Krumm, who was born almost three years before the WTA — which celebrates its 40th birthday this week — was founded, is still good enough to make the main draw of the women’s event.
The Japanese woman, who will be 43 in September, first played Wimbledon in 1989 and reached the semi-finals in 1996 where she lost to Steffi Graf.
She then retired for 13 years, returned to the tournament in 2009 but has won just one match since.