Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

January 25, 2014

Li Na’s new approach to championship match

MELBOURNE, Australia — When Li Na thinks back to her first Australian Open final, she doesn’t recall feeling nervous. Just very excited.

The 31-year-old Chinese star makes her third attempt at winning the championship in Melbourne today, and this time she’s nervous.

Experience has taught her how to play on tennis’ biggest stages, Li said on the eve of the final.

“Come to the court. Just play. Don’t think too much,” said Li, who this time — for the first time — is considered the favorite to win the Australian Open.

After two weeks of stunning upsets cleared away Li’s top competition, she will face No. 20-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an unheralded but explosive player who has steamrolled through the tournament with the carefree spirit of a player with nothing to lose. The 24-year-old Slovakian beat four higher-ranked players including No. 3 Maria Sharapova in the fourth-round and No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.

“Everyone has a chance to win the title,” Li said Friday, deflecting questions about the pressure of managing expectations or the fact that this is Cibulkova’s first final, or that she has played Cibulkova four times and beaten her on each occasion. “I think I’m ready. Same like her.”

One thing Li did talk about — a recurring theme of her news conferences in Melbourne — is how much she’s changed. The Li Na in this year’s final is not the same player that lost to Victoria Azarenka in 2013, or to the now-retired Kim Clijsters in 2011.

Li’s breakthrough came at the 2011 Australian Open when she gained fame as the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final.

“I was so excited. I never thought about (being) nervous,” she said.

Li lost in Melbourne that year, but a few months later at the French Open became the first Chinese player to win a major.

Her 2013 final was one of the most unusual ever played at Melbourne Park, with Li crashing to the court and nearly knocking herself out. A doctor rushed out and performed a neurological exam as the hushed crowd watched.

Li has joked several times that the key to winning in Melbourne is staying upright. She has also spoken about the revisions she’s made to her game and her mental approach under the guidance of coach Carlos Rodriguez, the former coach of seven-time major winner Justine Henin.

“I’ve changed a lot since last year,” Li said.

Since last season, Li has worked with Rodriguez on changing her grip when she serves and hits backhands, resulting in more power and consistency. She’s also playing more aggressive at the net, which was not an easy sell.

“When Carlos told me the first time, ‘you should come in more to volley,’ I was like, ‘What is this guy talking about?”’ Li said, joking that she was happy to “stay at the baseline for 100 years, and never try coming to the net.”

Much of their work has focused on helping Li stay calm and not bottle up pressure.

In contrast to her seriousness on court, Li is quick to crack jokes in interviews. Asked if she felt her third final could be the charm, Li said that luck will have nothing to do with it.

“In China, six and eight are lucky,” Li said, smiling.

1
Text Only
Local Sports
  • 150723-Lowndes_Brooks5.jpg Winding Down

    In its final 7-on-7 test of the summer, Randy McPherson was pleased with how the Lowndes football team looked Wednesday morning.
    Brooks County coach Maurice Freeman, on the other hand, was worried about the kind of hole the Trojans would have dug for themselves at Martin Stadium against the Vikings and Lafayette (Fla.) had it been a real game.

    July 24, 2014 3 Photos

  • Grable signs with Tampa Bay

    Another former Valdosta State football player joined the ranks of the National Football League when linebacker Jeremy Grable signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday morning.

    July 23, 2014

  • MaryAlice.jpg Just Keep Running

    Forrest Gump once said, "I used to run to get to where I was going, but I never thought it would take me anywhere." In the case of 18 year-old Mary Alice Smoot, anywhere is Tampa, Fla.
    After four years of unparalleled success running cross-country at Valwood, Smoot will continue running competitively next season at the University of Tampa.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10U ELITE World Series Champs.jpg DKSA Elite win USSSA Global World Series

    DKSA ELITE just continues to win, the 10U team’s latest victory came in the USSSA Global World Series held in Destin, Fla. July 8-12.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lowndes_McPherson.jpg Milestones on tap for upcoming season

    Some milestones are destined to occur, like when Georgia Christian hosts David Emanuel on Aug. 22 in the Generals’ first varsity football game since the late 1960s.
    Others will have to wait and see what continues to take shape come Friday when teams can begin fall practice, and especially Aug. 1 when teams can suit up in pads for the first time, such as can Valdosta win its record 24th state title, or can Lowndes capture its fourth state championship under Randy McPherson, or can Valwood and coach Ashley Henderson play in its third straight GISA state championship game?
    As we start to find out the answers to those questions in just a few short weeks — the regular season is just 31 days away — there should be a few more milestones for area coaches to mark 2014 right along with the Generals getting back on the gridiron.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • ACC_Jimbo.jpg Back on top

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • ACC_Petrino.jpg Petrino returns to Louisville for first ACC season

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Braves_Marlins JUpton.jpg Jones lifts Marlins past Braves in 10

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ant Smith.JPG Anthony Smith ready for new test in college

    Smith was a three-year starter as a Wildcat and quickly worked his way up as a leader on both the defense and the team as a whole.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • Wildcats participate in national 7-on-7 tournament

    The Valdosta High Wildcats have been working extremely hard this summer to prepare for the football season. Summer workouts and a plethora of 7-on-7 tournaments and competitions have kept the Wildcats busy.

    July 20, 2014

Blazers Blog
More