Ann Li touches down with purpose in Paris

 - Chris Oddo

American world No.75 hopes that her stunning main draw debut is a sign of things to come at Roland-Garros

Ann Li, Round 1© Andre Ferreira/FFT

Out of action since mid-March due to an abdominal injury, 20-year-old American Ann Li never got on the road to Roland-Garros.

Not to worry, she’s dropped down in Paris demonstrating the same scorching tennis that has propelled her to third-round finishes at the last two Grand Slams she has played.

On Tuesday she blitzed Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan on Court 9, the 6-0, 6-1 whitewashing lasting just 46 minutes. 

"I felt really good," said Li, who will face No.5 seed Elina Svitolina in second-round action on Thursday. "Actually I haven't played in about two months, just recovering from some things but I was just super excited to get back on court and I felt really good here."  

As it turns out, the Pennsylvania native, currently ranked 75 in the world, had some unfinished business on Court 9. Last year she lost a heartbreaker in her second qualifying match, to Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova, 6-7(12), 7-6(4), 6-4. This year, she wanted to make amends. 

"Actually it's funny, because I played there on the same court, I think with the same ref too, last year,” Li told “So I was like 'I gotta redeem myself.' I am happy I was able to compete well and play well." 

Competing well. Playing well. The terms are starting to become synonymous with Li, who is proving to be a ringer at the Grand Slams. Li notched her first top-20 win at a major at last year’s US Open, when she took out Alison Riske to reach the third round. This February in Australia, she repeated the feat, falling in round three to Aryna Sabalenka

Li made her return to the tour look easy on Tuesday, clubbing 17 winners and winning 28 of 38 points on serve. But the struggle has been real for the former Wimbledon junior runner-up. She was 9-2 on the season and eager to continue her progress when her injury became too serious to ignore. 

"I think there were a couple of moments where I struggled," she said. "It's just tough because you feel like you have momentum and all of the sudden you have to stop. I really tried to just stay positive and I was pretty confident in how much better I've gotten.

“I'm really just trying to have fun on the court and just be grateful for the opportunity again." 

Li is making her main draw debut in Paris, but she’s proven to be a quick learner on the terre battue. 

"I like every surface," she explained. "Last year on the red clay it was my first time here, so I was a little bit uncomfortable and a little bit unfamiliar. 

"I think I feel really good now, I came here a little bit early and prepared well so I feel like I'm more comfortable now. I just need to trust my movement and it will be good." 

That movement will be severely tested against Svitolina, a three-time quarter-finalist in Paris that has reached the third round in each of her last six Roland-Garros appearances, but Li is eager to have a stern test on the red clay. 

She feels ready, and believes she has become a far better player over the last year. 

Ann Li, Round 1, Roland Garros 2021© Andre Ferreira/FFT

"I think my game was always there, it's just tightening things up,” she said, adding: “I've gotten a lot stronger, and built my body up a lot better, so I think trusting my physicality and how long I can stay in a match, and how fast I can move, so I think that got a lot better. 

“Also mentally, too, I'm more stingy with every point. Every ball matters, so I think that was another big thing for me, from juniors and coming up, just paying attention to every single ball that you hit and having a purpose, and kind of just capitalising on my weapons and working on the weaknesses."