Li Na targets a return to her best
Originally published on: 10/01/12 10:29
Much has changed over the past year for Li Na.
Twelve months ago, the Wuhan native was seeking just her fourth WTA title in Sydney.
This year Li, who turns 30 on February 26, is back on the East Australian coast for the Apia International as not only the defending champion, but also a reigning Grand Slam champ to boot.
Perhaps the catalyst for the season that would follow last year, Li took out Kim Clijsters in the final of the Sydney tournament before powering on to Melbourne and dispatching the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Andrea Petkovic and Caroline Wozniacki before ultimately losing out to the Belgian in their second straight final.
Given her form at this stage last year, it is perhaps surprising then that Li feels that competing in Australia doesn’t come entirely naturally to her.
“I have to get used to the heat,” she admitted on Tuesday after a hard-fought win over Chanelle Scheepers. It took stern resolve, three sets and superior fitness to eventually make the difference in a 2-6 6-4 6-1 triumph.
“At the beginning of the match I was feeling so relaxed. She was hitting the ball back so deep; every ball back to my court. I was like ‘wow, what’s going on? What should I do?’
“In the first set I wanted to hit so many winners to win the point but it doesn’t work,” she added. “After the first set I changed a little bit to hit more balls back into the court and find a way to win.”
The French Open champion plays either Lucie Safarova or Svetlana Kuznetsova next in the quarter-finals, with the possibility of a final with Caroline Wozniacki, who had to come back from 4-0 down in the third set to beat Dominika Cibulkova, should both make it that far.
Li served to prolong Wozniacki’s hunt for a Grand Slam title last year when she beat her in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, but the Chinese player says the world No.1 is more than capable of going the distance this year.
“I would like to say she’s a really tough player,” Li told assembled reporters.
“Really. I mean, every time I am against her, I’m tired and cramping. She has improved a lot on her forehand – I used to see her miss a lot on the forehand,” she added.
“Now she doesn’t have any mistakes. She has two years in a row as world number one and of course the goal for her now is to win a Grand Slam.
“It is not easy to do, but I think she will keep going and never give up.”
As for her own abilities, Li believes she is ready to recapture her best level after struggling to cope with the attention she received in the aftermath of her Roland Garros triumph, winning just six matches across the remainder of the season after her victory in Paris.
“After the French Open I couldn’t concentrate on the court any more because I had to do so many things off the court,” she said.
“I couldn’t just practise or something. Sometimes if I practised, so many people would come to ask me questions, to do an interview, to do photo shooting. This was a really tough half-year for me.
“Now I totally understand what I should be doing on the court.”