Coach helps improve Li Na's tennis game — and marriage
By Justin Bergman ,APMELBOURNE -- French Open champion Li Na credits new coach Carlos Rodriguez with turning her tennis career around — and saving her marriage.
January 23, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Last August, the Chinese star hired Rodriguez, who coached Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles, after the conflicts with her previous coach — her husband Jiang Shan — became too much to bear.
“The funny thing is, I think two years ago in China, someone said I was divorced,” Li said Tuesday after beating Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska. “Because they were thinking, we're always shouting, maybe we're divorced.”
“It's just being coach and husband is — how you say — tough to find a balance!” she added.
Now Li and Jiang have found marital peace again — decreased disagreements on or off the court — and she is winning again.
Li hired Rodriguez after disappointing, early-round losses at Wimbledon and the London Olympics. He joined her midweek at a tournament in Cincinnati — they had never even met before — and she captured the title, her first since her breakthrough Grand Slam win at Roland Garros in 2011.
She then won a second title at the inaugural Shenzhen Open earlier this month and is now in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the third time in four years.
Rodriguez has had a steadying influence on Li, who was struggled to control her emotions on court and has appeared more composed since starting to work with him.
At one point during the second set against Radwanska, Li lost her service toss in the sun and batted the ball five rows deep into the crowd. Rather than let the miss-hit unnerve her, however, she calmly made her second serve and put away a deft backhand volley to win the point.
“I was working a lot on this (aspect) in winter training,” Li said. “Carlos always say, 'Calm down, calm down.'”
In interviews, she seems happier as well. Two years ago, on her way to becoming the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, Li was pure entertainment in her press conferences, joking about her husband's snoring and admitting she forget her own wedding anniversary.
After her win at the French Open, however, things changed. She began to put more pressure on herself at the Grand Slams — and didn't make a quarterfinal at six consecutive majors. At last year's Australian Open, she left in tears after wasting four match points in the fourth round against Kim Clijsters.
When asked during her post-match interview what happened with that very wayward serve, she quipped: “I want to have good communication with the fans.”
Then she said to her coach, “Carlos, make sure we practice on serve.”
Later, Li related the difficulties she had when she started training with Rodriguez at the Spaniard's tennis academy in Beijing. After three days of six-hour workouts, she called her husband in distress.
Li admits now the hard work was worth it. Her fitness was tested against the fourth-seeded Radwanska, a crafty player who relies on spins and slices to construct points and wears her opponents down with her consistency.