China Open: They had us at nǐ hǎo

Li Na

Li Na. (Photo credit: China Open)

They had us at nǐ hǎo.

What a treat Li Na and Maria Sharapova served up for the fans in Saturday’s semifinal match. From the first game Li Na and Maria Sharapova (Masha, as her friends call her) had the crowd on the edge of their seats.

Overwhelmingly in favor of their native daughter, the crowd was very vocal in their support of Li. Not that they don’t like Sharapova, but they LOVE Ni. And when she nearly broke Sharapova’s serve in the first game they were joyous on every point. (That game went to deuce three times with Sharapova finally winning with an ace on game point.)

It might be true that the crowd didn’t have much tennis education or courtesy (taking too long to settle in at the changeovers,) but you can’t deny their spirit. This crowd was engaged from start to finish.

Two double faults by Sharapova in the third game really had the crowd on edge. The acoustics in the circular arean of Diamond Court are very good so a cheer yelled  in any part is heard by all in the stadium. The crowd is defintealy a third player in this match.

You simply can’t compel 30,000 fans to be quiet during a tennis match. They want their player to win, especially over  the No. 2 ranked player. Long points, double faults, unforced errors, balls that hit the net before flying into the opponent’s court — everything was fodder for a response from the audience.

The crowd went on a vocal roller coaster ride, from the low “Whoa” to the crescendoing “AH!” sounds. Then the collective roar when Li hit a fabulous shot.

The cheers lessened in the second set as Sharapova took a 4-0 lead, turning instead to polite yet still enthusiastic applause.

A three set match would have been great, but it wasn’t in the cards today. Sharapova got out of her mental slump and stomped on Li in the second set, taking just half the time of the first set.

Li Na had a good run at the China Open and she should have no doubt how much her compatriots love her.


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