Age no barrier as Li hits new heights

Source:Agencies-Global Times Published: 2013-11-1 21:08:01

Li Na of China serves to Serena Williams of the US in the final of the WTA Championships at the Sinan Erdem Dome on October 27 in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: CFP

Li Na of China serves to Serena Williams of the US in the final of the WTA Championships at the Sinan Erdem Dome on October 27 in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: CFP

Li Na's fine performance in getting­ to the final of the season-ending WTA Championships was one in the eye for those who suggested that her best was behind her.

Instead, at the age of 31, Li has not only become the first Asian to reach world No.3 but her game is evolving cleverly enough to hope for further triumphs in 2014.

Although Li conceded the last nine games in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 loss to Serena Williams on Sunday, there was evidence of new tactical options and growing self-confidence as she overcame Victoria Azarenka, the world No.2, and then troubled the world No.1 in the final.

Li admitted nerves played a part in her defeat.

"I was too excited at the start of the game, and by the half of the second set, I had no more energy left," she said.

But the 31-year-old Chinese, who served 10 double faults, was not too concerned.

"I have showed much improvement this year, and this serve-volley thing is new to me, and it's not like playing from the baseline," she explained.

"I was feeling much better than the US Open (Li met Williams in the semifinals). At least this time I tried to do my best," said Li.

She also downplayed her hopes and achievements, as perhaps she needed to, both for modesty's sake and to avoid self-inflicted pressure.

"[To become] No.3 was the goal at the beginning of the year. I don't know, lucky or happy in the last tournament, I made it," she said.

"So it's a pretty good ending for 2013," Li added, prompting the question­ whether she would now aim for world No.2.

"Why not?" she said with a shrug of the shoulders.

More importantly, she will keep her focus on day-to-day matters, like adding to her ability to take the ball early and dictate the pattern of the rallies, improving and mixing in more serve-volleys, and paying closer attention to her schedule to avoid injury and exhaustion.

Getting better

Li is also trying to access potential still contained within her and to release unused abilities.

Her coach Carlos Rodriguez has, she says, been trying to get her to unlock herself, not get so tight inside, and to play more freely.

"I don't know, I think maybe it's different between Chinese and Westerners, because I think the Western people, they like to share how you are feeling now," the star from Wuhan said.

"For myself, if I feel something, I never try to talk to the team. I always block [the feeling]. I always feel I'm strong enough, I can fix everything.

"But I think this is a weakness. So I think the real strong person, for sure, they will speak out, because they will find someone who can help them to be even stronger.

"So that's why I was feeling terrible­ every time I talked to Carlos. But now I am feeling much better,­ because I try to open my mind a little bit to share the feeling.

"If he really wants, I can be more like Serena. Maybe he should teach me," she said with a hint of the humor which has made her so popular.

Differences in training

Li also opened up about how differently­ things were done when she was training in China.

"I always try, but sometimes [what I tried] didn't work," she said.

"I think when I was growing up, I could not show how good I am, because when I was starting to play tennis, and when I won a tournament, the coach was so tough.

"If I won a tournament­ and next day I was training and made a mistake­, for sure she would say, 'What? You just win one tournament.­ Are you thinking you can win another one? Why didn't you train harder?'

"I think she always punched me, so that's why I didn't have confidence to show how good I am."

Identifying and then admitting­ these inhibitions will, Li hopes, be the first steps toward attitude changes and further improvements on the tennis court.

As for how to beat Serena­ Williams­, something she has managed­ only once in 11 attempts,  more than five years ago, Li was more cautious.­

"I don't think any other player gives me the same feeling," she admitted, referring to the American's ability to overwhelm not only with sheer power but with her presence.

One remedy Li attempted during­ the final against the 32-year-old American brought smiles both from her and her listeners.

"Yeah, don't look at her at all, you know," she said.

Li can nevertheless look at 2014 fully in the face and feel that, though she will be 32 in February, the doubters have already been proved wrong and that much is still possible.

Posted in: Feature, Tennis

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