Vanquished top seed Li Na's warm hug for Flavia Pennetta on Friday after the Italian beat her in the semi-finals at Indian Wells had plenty of history behind it. The tennis rivals were born just one day apart -- China's Li on February 26 and Pennetta on February 25 in 1982 -- and Li said she feels a kinship with the Italian who is still hard at it on the WTA Tour.
"You know, she's only one day older than me," Li said. "It's not easy over 30 still play on the tour."
The two first played each other in an International Tennis Federation tournament in Italy back in 2000. "It was like a huge, long history," said Li, who was catapulted to stardom when she became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam tournament at the 2011 French open.
"You never know after 15 years you still can play the same opponent in a big tournament."
Li said she and Pennetta barely remembered that first meeting. Since then they'd met four more times before Friday, notably in January when Li swept past the Italian in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open en route to her second Grand Slam title. Pennetta avenged that defeat with 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 victory over Li on the hardcourts in the California desert, reaching biggest final of a career that has included nine WTA titles.
The most recent of those was in Marbella in 2010, and Pennetta had dropped out of the top 100 in the world and was considering retirement before reaching the semi-finals of the US Open last year. Li, the world number two who was the top seed in the elite WTA event, was hampered by nine double faults.
She was also charged with more than 50 unforced errors, but both players said those statistics belied the quality of the match. "We make mistakes, but we make mistakes because we try to find the winner all the time," Pennetta said. "I think it was good in that way, but of course when you try too much you make mistakes.
"She was really good. All the time I had the pressure when I was serving, I was feeling all the time, and I think was the same for her," the Italian added.
Li put the double faults down to a change in the mechanics of her serve, and said it was something she would just have to fight through. "Of course if I want to change something, you cannot change for one or two days," she said. "You need time to organize everything.
"I was feeling better and better. Should be OK in next tournament or tournament after," she added.