By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Elena Vesnina put a dent in Li Na’s warm-up for Wimbledon to reach the semi-final stage at Eastbourne and become the latest in a long line of Russian blondes changing the face of ladies tennis.
Vesnina notched a 7-5 6-3 success against the wildcard, who had a torrid time during the clay court season including a poor performance at Roland Garros – where she had previously triumphed.
The world no6 was overwhelmed by American ace Bethanie Mattek-Sands in last month’s French Open, which upset the Chinese media with her attitude about losing. And Li was aiming to warm-up for next week’s Wimbledon with a solid run at Devonshire Park.
But 26-year-old Vesnina had other plans and after snatching a tight tiebreak reeled off the second set with aplomb.
Vesnina said: “I’m really excited and I’m really enjoying this surface.”
In contrast, Li clearly did not enjoy competing on grass and only entered Eastbourne in a desperate bid to find her form ahead of SW19.
Li didn’t get much practice, drawn against two French stars. The Chinese no1 destroying Alize Cornet and was given a walkover over unwell Marion Bartoli to race into the last eight.
The world no36, ranked 30 places behind Li, had a tough route to reach the semi-finals. She dismantled Serbian Ana Ivanovic in her first contest and then saw off Guernsey girl Heather Watson before finding Li the easiest opponent in the draw so far.
Vesnina, in only her second main draw appearance at Eastbourne, is in with a real shot of collecting only her second WTA Tour title come Saturday afternoon and has made winning look effortless.