Li Na ponders future
Paris - China's sporting superstar Li Na wants to "totally forget tennis" for a while after her humiliating collapse at the French Open deprived Asia of its only Grand Slam title and caused a wave of angst in her homeland.
The 30-year-old, who inspired many Chinese girls to take up tennis after her sensational run to the Roland Garros championship last year, is not even sure if she wants to return to China or stay in Europe to prepare for the next major, Wimbledon.
"I will take some days off to totally forget tennis, then try to come back next week," she said after the match, snapping at journalists who asked for an explanation of her second-set meltdown against little-known Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova on Monday.
Li said she may ask for a wildcard to the pre-Wimbledon warmup tournament in Birmingham.
"Right now I have not decided if I am staying here to play Birmingham or go back to China to recover," Li said.
Disappointed Chinese tennis fans flooded Sina Weibo, the country's top Twitter-style microblog site, with 11 million messages on Tuesday as they grappled with seventh-seed Li's shock 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 defeat to Shvedova, ranked 142, in the fourth round.
Asian newspapers and websites on Tuesday also played up the defeat, which took place as much of the region was asleep.
"What's wrong with Li Na? It must be because she did not thank her mother country last time," posted one user of Sina Weibo.
Another blamed Li's "mood swings" for her defeat, saying they were her "major weakness".
Li's loss came a year after her victory at Roland Garros made her an overnight sensation as Asia's first grand slam singles champion, prompting tributes including a bronze statue in her home city of Wuhan.
But the feisty, tattooed star has not managed another tournament win since.
"I lost one match so don't try to put me down," Li glowered at journalists in Paris. "This is tennis. I will try to find the reason why I lost."
Many bloggers were forgiving of the fallen champion, who was attempting to be the first French Open women's champion to defend the title since Justine Henin in 2007.
"Who can be champion forever?" asked one, while another compared Li to Serena Williams - who went out in the first round - and advised her to "take a rest and keep fighting".
In January, she exited the Australian Open in floods of tears after being beaten by Kim Clijsters.
One fan who signed off as "Carl C" on Yahoo Singapore, which has a large ethnic Chinese audience in the city-state, wrote that "as much as I want Li Na to win, I think she was just a fluke... I don't think that she will come back again."