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July 22, 2017

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Australian Open champ Li first-round loser in France

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

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

Happened in 2011, after her French Open triumph made her China's first player with a Grand Slam singles title. Happened again Tuesday, when Li was seeded second at Roland Garros but lost to someone ranked 103rd 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."

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

It's the first time that the men's and women's singles champions from the previous major 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," said Li, who works with Carlos Rodriguez, former coach of four-time French Open titlist Justine Henin.

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

Top players, even the likes of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, frequently talk about being particularly jittery at the start of a Grand Slam tournament, even against clearly outclassed competition.

They notice, to be sure, when folks such as Li or Wawrinka depart quickly.

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