The women’s event lost its defending champion here on Monday when Li Na was surprisingly beaten by Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. As ever, China were following Li’s every move and it’s hard to underestimate the pressure she must feel each time she steps onto the court, and even more so when she has to speak to the press after losing.
Around 50 million people in China watched her third-round winover Christina McHale and even more tuned in to watch her lose to Shvedova. Every time she loses, there are questions from home as to whether she is in a crisis and Li was clearly angry when asked what went wrong against Shvedova. To put the interest in Li in perspective, Agence France Presse reported that 11 million messages were left on China’s equivalent of Facebook, with varying degrees of sympathy and irritation. According to AFP, one poster wrote: “What’s wrong with Li Na? It must be because she did not thank her mother country last time (when she won).” No wonder she is considering not going home before Wimbledon – she surely doesn’t need the stress.
When Wimbledon announced in April that it was following the French Open’s lead in increasing the prize money for first-round losers – and players in the qualifying event – it was widely praised for its redistribution of wealth. For many years, the prize money for the winners was rising disproportionately to that of losers in the early rounds, the vast majority of whom are in the tournament by virtue of their ranking, which comes from working hard and picking up results throughout the year. The winners’ prize money was raised by a far smaller percentage but it was interesting to note that the events with the second-highest percentage increases were the Legends events.
These are the events where the former champions and top players of past years are invited to play. Whereas the overall percentage increase in prize money in the singles events is 10.3 percent, the increase for the Legends is 12.6 percent. You only have to look at the crowds the likes of Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe pull in at Wimbledon to see that they are popular and it’s the same in France, where the likes of Henri Leconte, Guy Forget and the ever-popular Mansour Bahrami are so well known that on Tuesday, their match was shown live on French television.
It is certainly entertaining and many people hanker for the time when they were at the top of their game, with the rivalries and entertainment they provided. It may be a case of rose-tinted glasses but with packed crowds and live television coverage, it’s hard to argue that they don’t deserve the money.