Column: Li Na’s tennis game is on the right track, his personality pleasantly offbeat

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Amid a world of professional tennis teeming with players with impressive athletic skills and disappointing personalities, there is Li Na.

She is a beacon in the fog, a candle in a mine shaft.

She is also a very good tennis player who is ranked No 2 and who regularly qualified for the third round at Wimbledon on Wednesday. She beat Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger in a nice 6-2, 6-2 workout, and expectations of bigger things to come from her here were heightened.

And why not?

She won two major titles, the 2011 French Open and this year’s Australian Open, and looks set for more. Even though she is 32 years old, she seems to be thriving both physically and mentally under the guidance of her coach for the past two years, Carlos Rodriguez.

He was the mastermind behind Justine Henin, now retired, and her seven major titles.

As Rodriguez stepped out of Li’s game on Wednesday to spot his next opponent, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic, it was clear that his well-known attention to detail as well as his well-known reputation as a steadfast builder is a important part of The Li Na Team.

“The tactic was to throw the ball [the rally] in the middle of the court, ”he said. “She was supposed to focus on that, and she was… most of the time.” She’s # 2 in the world, so I expect she can stick with the right tactics for a whole game. Of course, sometimes she doesn’t.

If that makes Li unpredictable, thank goodness. The tour’s buzz and all too often bland attendees make someone who regularly rejects the norm a big draw.

After her win on Wednesday, she was asked if she prefers grass or clay courts.

“Hard courts,” she said.

She was asked if she was concerned about the number of unforced errors she made in her match.

“But I had a lot of winners too, didn’t I? “

This press conference was only a slight retrospective of Li. There are always jokes, even if she presents them in a language very different from hers, and to an audience very different from her. What she says is never formatted out of habit or sanitized by an agent. Who she is is what you get. Always.

Remember, this is a Chinese woman who has a tattoo. On his chest. You don’t have to wonder how this plays out in the Communist Politburo.

This is a woman who, years ago, parted ways with the Chinese tennis federation, which was taking up to 65% of its earnings, and left alone. Some $ 15 million later, it makes her look like Warren Buffett.

The world beyond China probably started to take notice of this wonderfully eccentric woman after her field interview following her Australian semi-final victory in 2011. As we hip columnists like to say, it has gone viral on Youtube.

She was asked how she felt before the game and she said she didn’t get much sleep because “my husband was sleeping like…” (she was making the classic snoring sound). well rested, which motivated her in the game. “A cash prize,” she said.

Then, this year after her Australian title, she did it again.

Addressing the crowd at the victory ceremony, she looked at her team box, thanked them all for their support and said to her husband, “Thank you for everything, for just traveling with me to be my typing partner. Fix the drinks. Secure the racket. You do a lot of work. So thank you very much. You are a good person. Besides, you are lucky to find me.

The crowd at Rod Laver Stadium roared. It was her husband who laughed the loudest.

His name is Jiang Shan, a former player with his own career aspirations. He was her head coach for most of his career until Rodriguez took over.

Rodriguez called the team a “happy group. … We have fun, laugh a lot.

When her husband coached her, Li said she heard people talk about their divorce. She said it was because “we were always yelling at each other.”

A newspaper headlined a story about them: “Husband, Coach, Punching Bag”.

Now Rodriguez is mediating.

“I tell her husband,” Rodriguez said Wednesday, “to tell him not only the things she’s done wrong, but also the things she’s done right.”

As she heads into subsequent rounds at Wimbledon and the higher profile that goes with it, the Li Na-isms will be retrained, a laudable effort at all times:

• Li, asking her mother to come and see her play: “She said no. I have my life.

• When she finally called her mother to an exhibition match and called her afterwards to ask her what she thought: “Match OK. I’m going home now.

• On Chinese male tennis players: “I think they are strong in body, not strong in spirit. “

• On not being impressed when called China’s most popular athlete more popular than Yao Ming: “He’s retired.”

• On the progression of marriage attendance: “Before we got married, I would tell him ‘I’m going shopping’ and he would say ‘Okay.’ Now I say I’m going shopping and he says, “Why are you always going shopping? “

• His mandate on his snoring: “You gain more weight, you are divorced.

• And his response to the flight attendant who told him, on the way home from one of his big wins, “Hey, this guy is Li Na’s husband”: “Yeah, he looks like him. A lot of people say that. “

So if you’re looking for a rooting interest as Wimbledon progresses, consider Li Na. Remember, the more she wins, the more she talks.


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