The man behind Li Na's Aussie Open campaign
Updated: 2014-01-23 19:31
By Sun Xiaochen (chinadaily.com.cn)
When the entire tennis world envisions that Li Na would grab her long-awaited Australian Open trophy at her third final in four years on Saturday, her coach Carlos Rodriguez remains cautious.
"I don't know, I hope," the Argentinean responded to a question of "do you think she's ready to win" after Li's 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over promising Canadian Eugenie Bouchard at the Melbourne Park on Friday.
Rodriguez, who consistently becomes the focal point of media attention following Li's winning performance at the tournament, said whether Li could grab her second Grand Slam title on Saturday depends on how badly she wants it.
"If you ask me personally, I think she deserve it. Like I said to Li Na, it's how high, how big and how strong your desire is that will get you to the crown," said Rodriguez, who joined Li's crew during the North American season in 2012.
Expecting to improve her longtime playing style even though she is in her 30s, Li threw herself into a grinding training campy, featuring tough regime and fitness programs, at the end of 2012 with Rodriguez.
She survived and became more powerful and versatile at the first major in 2013, where she made it into the final for a second time at Melbourne Park.
It's not her fine-tuned serve and volley playing style but her mental stability under pressure that helped Li pull away from tough moments like third-round clash against Czech Lucie Safarova en route to the final this year, Rodriguez said.
"She is more stable. She still has the amazing beginning of matches but she doesn't fall that deep down. That's the key I think," said Rodriguez, former mentor of seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin.
"It's not the questions about physical or skill. She plays with a little bit more of spin in a safer way. But at least, she has the capacity to keep the ball in game if she is not in good position. And I think she handles the pressure much better and plays with less worries. She has the emotional endurance to support her game."
Although making Grand Slam final four times including Roland Garros in 2011, Li admitted that the big-moment nerve would still hamper her performance at the semis' press conference.
Rodriguez said nerve wasn't a bad thing and Li has learned how to confront it in the tense final atmosphere as she's been there before.
"For her, that's (previous final experiences) much more powerful than me. If you compare with Roland Garros in 2001, today she knows why she is fear in the final. She understands what she did to achieve that. Maybe, because of that, she can player better tennis on Saturday and win the championship."
Citing Li's 4-0 head-to-head against her final opponent Dominika Cibulkova, Rodriguez said Li will boast technical advantages facing the Slovakian world No 24 as "her style is easier for Li to adapt to."