Share story

PARIS – Much to her dismay, Li Na is familiar with this feeling.

She earns a title in a Grand Slam tournament, is heralded at home, then shows up at subsequent major tournaments and seemingly forgets how to win.

It happened in 2011, after her French Open triumph made her China’s first player with a major singles title. It happened again Tuesday, when Li was seeded second at Roland Garros but lost to someone ranked 103rd in the world in the first round — not quite four months removed from winning the Australian Open.

“I didn’t follow the game plan,” Li said. “Didn’t have any idea how to play.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Her 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 exit against Kristina Mladenovic of France in front of a partisan crowd on a cloudy, windy Day 3 came about 16 hours after the men’s Australian Open champion, third-seeded Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, was beaten in Paris — making this French Open already unlike any Grand Slam tournament in the Open era.

It is the first time the men’s and women’s singles champions from the previous major tournament both lost in the first round.

“Nobody say if you (are) No. 2 in the world, you have to win all the matches. I mean, this is tennis,” Li said.

For an opening match at a major, the “tension is different,” she added. “Always tough to pass the first round.”

Li hung her head when she sailed a stroke long on match point for her 37th unforced error, 12 more than Mladenovic.

At the opposite baseline, Mladenovic raised both arms, then covered her mouth with her trembling left hand, trying to process what had just happened. Soon, the 21-year-old Mladenovic was choking back tears.

“It’s never normal when you beat such a big name, big player,” said Mladenovic, who entered the match with a 1-5 record at the French Open, including a loss to Li in 2010.

No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark — a former world No. 1 — lost her opener less than a week after her planned wedding to golf superstar Rory McIlroy was called off.

Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, who is ranked 64th in the world, beat Wozniacki 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-2.

“I don’t really want to talk about my personal life. I hope that you all can understand that,” Wozniacki began, and put her left hand to her chest, during a statement at her postmatch news conference. “The only thing I really have to say is that, you know, (I want to) thank everybody for their support and sweet messages.”

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.