MELBOURNE, Australia — Li Na’s best year on the WTA Tour was like a roller coaster.
She lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters, then won the French Open to become the first Asian player to capture a Grand Slam title.
She had a big dip in the second half of the year – a second-round loss at Wimbledon was followed by first-round defeats at the U.S. Open and a home tournament in Beijing. She lost twice in the round-robin stage at the WTA Championships.
But a strong training regimen in the offseason, followed by a short break, has her in better form ahead of the Australian Open. Li recently won all three of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup and advanced to the Sydney International final, losing to Victoria Azarenka in three sets.
Li said she’s feeling “healthy and strong” at Melbourne Park, where she’ll play Krenia Pervak in the first round today.
Azarenka won 12 consecutive games Sudnay night to finish off Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0 in 67 minutes in the opening match of the Australian Open on center court.
Azarenka, one of six women who can finish atop the rankings depending on results at Melbourne Park, is coming off a win at the Sydney International last week.
The Sydney champion has gone on to reach the Australian Open final six times since 1997, winning twice.
Azarenka beat Li in the Sydney final Friday night and is starting to gain a following in Melbourne’s Chinese community.
“After beating Li Na, a lot of Chinese people started recognizing me,” the 22-year-old from Belarus said about her experience at a Chinese restaurant. “That’s a plus.”
She’ll get more local attention in coming days, with a second-round match against Australian wild-card entry Casey Dellacqua, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski.