Li Na: Is She Rediscovering Her Form in Time for the French Open?

Van Sias@@Van_SiasContributor IIIMay 17, 2012

ROME, ITALY - MAY 16:  Li Na of China plays a forehand in her match against Iveta Benesova of Czech Republic during day five of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2012 Tennis on May 16, 2012 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Last year's French Open was one for the ages for Li Na. The veteran player from China won her first Grand Slam singles title, defeating Francesca Schiavone in the finals. After that career moment, things didn't go as planned for Li as she struggled with expectations.

At this week's Italian Open, Li is showing signs of returning to form—she's advanced to the quarterfinals at one of the game's biggest clay-court tournaments. That is good news as the French Open is right around the corner.

But will it be enough to give her momentum heading into the second major tournament of the year?

Next up for Li in the Rome quarterfinals is Dominika Cibulkova who advanced to the final eight via a walkover granted by world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. Li would have to be considered the favorite in that match and should she get past it, would face either home favorite Flavia Pennetta or Serena Williams—currently on a 16-match winning streak on the clay—in the semifinals.

Regardless, a deep run at the Italian Open could do a lot to further boost Li's confidence. Last year, she didn't advance to a clay-court final prior to the French, yet ended up capturing the biggest one of them all. This year, her preparation on the dirt has yielded similar results to 2011. She advanced to the quarterfinals at the Stuttgart and Madrid tournaments and at those events, she lost tough three-setters to Agnieszka Radwanska and Azarenka, respectively.

Also, early on in 2012, Li gave indication that she was ready to put the disappointing second half of 2011 behind her. In Australia, she advanced to the finals in Sydney and the round of 16 at the Australian Open, where she lost an epic three-set match to Kim Clijsters.

Mainly this year, though, Li has been playing to her seeding, consistently making the last eight in tournaments without much breakthrough. A tournament in Rome could possibly propel her to another one in Paris a couple of weeks away.