Happy to be home and thrilled with new game

Updated: 2013-09-30 07:07

(China Daily)

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Hi everyone, I am Li Na, the world No 5 tennis player from China. I am really glad to be back in Beijing to meet all my "Na Ions" (nickname of Li's fans) after traveling around the world this season. A whole week's stay in my hometown of Wuhan after the US Open refreshed me from the fatigue of playing in North America, where I reached the semis of the US Open in New York for the first time in my career. I also visited Madame Tussaud's in Wuhan to check out another "me" made of wax, which was a pretty cool experience.

However, the fun times always pass too quickly and I resumed training with my coach, Carlos Rodriguez, at his tennis academy, the Potter's Wheel club, in Beijing last week. His tough training regime, which features equal time on fitness and technique, is always challenging but all the sweat and pain have paid off as my fine-tuned serve and improved volleying has helped me to be more aggressive on court.

It wasn't easy to change the playing style that I've persisted with for more than 20 years. But when you get used to the adjustments and the effects start to show, you are like, "Oh, this is my tennis".

If I had to rate my performance so far this year on a scale of 1-10, I would give it 30 points: 10 for my own consistent performance, 10 for the support from the coaching crew and 10 for my courage to make the changes despite some doubts. Apart from the improvements in my skills, mental toughness is where I have become stronger as I've learned to face my problems on court and try to solve them without letting them affect my emotions.

Happy to be home and thrilled with new game

I have also found out that learning to share feelings hidden deep in your heart helps to release pressure and negative feelings. I used to always close my heart and didn't expose myself, even to intimate friends.

That's why I opened myself up to the camera in a recent CCTV interview. I shared a lot of untold stories about my upbringing, my struggles on and off the court as well as the decision that I almost made after the French Open. (Li told the interviewer she was prepared to retire after a poor clay-court season in Europe, which affected her confidence and desire to continue playing).

Still, I don't regret that I contemplated retiring before Wimbledon as I always stay true to myself and that was where my mind was back then.

I am proud that I made it through that tough period, which motivated me to bounce back strong in the US, where I regained my energy.

Until this year, I hadn't reached the final four in New York. The former Li Na would make excuses such as fatigue at the end of the season.

But what was the real problem? I hadn't asked myself that question until Carlos brought it up to me before the US Open.

I finally figured out it was due to a lack of focus, which matters a lot on court as you need to identify problems and make the according adjustments.

For example, (to help me hone my concentration) Carlos would ask Jiang Shan (Li's husband who now serves as a hitting partner) to hit some tough shots in the last 10 minutes of a three-hour session when it was hard to stay focused because I was tired.

After all, tennis is a highly-demanding sport in which you need to perform well in at least four dimensions: technique, fitness, mentality and nutrition.

What do I want to be remembered for when I eventually retire?

I hope people can totally forget about me after I leave the court as I am just a tennis player.

The legacy I would love to leave?

Just to inspire youngsters to set goals and figure out what they really want in life.

Editor's notes: China's premier player, Li Na, reached the semifinal stage or better in seven of the 14 tournaments she played this year before the China Open.

During the 2013 China Open, China Daily, in conjunction with the WTA, will again bring you columns from various female players to provide insight into life on the tour.

(China Daily 09/30/2013 page23)