Heather Watson’s US Open campaign came to an end on the first afternoon in New York as she was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by ninth seed Li Na in what was an extremely tough test for the British player.
Li has had an up and down time since winning the French Open last summer, but has truly hit form on the north American hard courts.
The 30-year-old reached the final in Montreal earlier this month, losing to Petra Kvitova, and then beat Agnieszka Radwanska, Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber back to back to win her first title of the year in Cincinnati.
Watson, meanwhile, was fresh from winning her second WTA Tour doubles title of the year in Texas with New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic on Friday, but had not won a singles match since the Olympics.
The British No 1 began confidently and had a break point in the fourth game, but Li saved it with a big serve, and from there the ninth seed rather pulled away.
Watson was saved, at least for a little while, though, by the weather as, with Li having held serve to move to within a game of victory, the heavens opened and an almighty thunderstorm hit Flushing Meadows.
The pair were off court for almost three hours, but Li needed only one game to clinch victory with a third straight break of the Watson serve.
Watson felt her display was a step forward despite the scoreline. The 20-year-old said: “I’m happy with how I played. But today Li Na was on another level. She was hitting winners off balls I wouldn’t think you could hit winners off, hitting lots of lines. She had a really high first-serve percentage and she just played better tennis. She played like a grand slam champion.
“I enjoyed playing against her. It was a high-quality match, and for me it’s gaining experience against these top players, learning to do the right things on the big points – that’s what counts.”
Watson only arrived in New York on Saturday following her doubles success in Dallas, and she is hoping to take that onto the grand slam stage at Flushing Meadows. She added: “I didn’t have much preparation time here at all but I wouldn’t change that because it’s another WTA title and I’m very pleased with it. I’m playing with Marina here this week so hopefully we can do well.”