New coach, new outlook

Updated: 2012-09-29 08:17

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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New coach, new outlook

New coach Carlos Rodriguez said he thinks he can help Li Na find her way into the top three in the world sometime in the near future.Toru Hanai / reuters

Li Na thinks she can breathe new life into her career with help of Carlos Rodriguez

Her new coach's confidence is rubbing off on Li Na.

Although the 30-year-old Li has entered the twilight of her career struggling to improve her mental game, new coach Carlos Rodriguez still believes she'll crack the top-three in the world in the near future.

And that inspires Li a lot.

"I just learned that he still has so much confidence in me. I really appreciate that. I hope I can do it by partnering with him until the day I retire from the game," Li said at her personal media conference before the China Open on Friday.

Rodriguez, who coached Belgium great Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam wins, said Li has the potential to return to the top in a few years.

The chemistry between Li and Rodriguez got off to a flying start in their first tournament together, in Cincinnati, where Li claimed her sixth WTA title and showed more consistency.

She expects to keep improving.

The first thing is to overhaul her swing, which she has been using for more than 10 years. A change like that doesn't come easy.

"I want to adjust my shots and footwork because I want to be better. Otherwise, I wouldn't have changed to a new coach," Li said.

Replaced by Rodriguez, Li's husband Jiang Shan has returned to his familiar corner as a hitting-partner while taking care of her life off the court.

Despite a tough draw, Li hopes for a good finish at the China Open to help her qualify for the year-end WTA Championships for a second straight season.

Drawn with Polish defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska and world No 2 Maria Sharapova of Russia in the second half, Li will face a tough opener against Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone before a second-round clash against Russian ace Nadia Petrova.

If she manages to make it past the third round by defeating either compatriot Peng Shuai or Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, Radwanska could be in the quarterfinals.

The current world No 8 crashed out in the third round of the US Open without enough ranking points to guarantee a spot in the Championships, so she knew she has to do much better here than she did last year.

"Last year was a roller-coaster ride and I hit the bottom here. But that doesn't mean anything for this year," said Li, who bowed out in the opening last year. "I fee like I am getting more consistent, so I am looking forward to a better performance here."

Peng will square off against promising Belgian Yania Wickmayer in the first round while another Chinese player, Zheng Jie, will handle a qualifier in the opening round.