Li's tennis gets better with age

Updated: 2014-01-01 21:06

By Sun Xiaochen (

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Li's tennis gets better with age

Li Na plays against Russian former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva at Shenzhen Open in Shenzhen, Dec 31, 2013. [Photo by Wu Jun/Asianewsphoto]

China's tennis superstar Li Na, who defied the age skeptics and delivered world-class performance in 2013, aims to sharpen her game even further in the new year.

And she had a good start with victory in the year's opening tournament.

Li, who improved her world ranking to a career-high No 3 last year, kicked off her 2014 campaign with a bang as she sent Ukrainian Nadiya Kichenok packing, 6-1, 6-4 at the second round of the season-opening Shenzhen Open on Wednesday.

Li, the defending champion, harnessed new serving power and precision to defeat the Ukrainian, who is ranked No 101 in the world.

"I changed the motion of my serve a little bit again," Li said. "It seems that my second serve is more aggressive now."

Determined to improve her longtime playing style even though she is in her 30s, Li experienced the toughest training camp of her career at the end of 2012 with new coach Carlos Rodriguez.

The regime of Rodriguez — mentor of seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin — was so demanding that Li almost gave up halfway. But she survived to become even more powerful and versatile on the court.

Featuring better serves and more volley plays in 2013, Li reached the Australian Open final before making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the semis at the US Open. She also advanced the final at the WTA year-end championships last year.

Expecting more success, Li threw herself back into the again last month and adjusted her techniques.

"Definitely, I want to prepare more weapons on court," Li said. "During the entire winter training, my team worked hard to perfect my skills, but I am still in an adjusting period, trying to be better day by day."

Li's appearance at the Shenzhen Open, which is in its second year, set off a buzz at the tournament. And fans who poured into the Longgang Tennis Center to support Li were not disappointed.

With the sound of camera shutters clicking throughout the stadium, Li showcased controlled aggression, pairing discipline with crisp footwork to prepare for her shots and patiently set up the points.

Li thanked the fans, saying she was honored to spend the end of 2013 together with them.

"I was very satisfied with my performance. Winning the match was the best way to close out the year," Li said after defeating Russian former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva in the first round on Tuesday.

Asked if she celebrated New Year's Eve with her husband, Jiang Shan, Li said romantic dates were never part of the plan.

"When you love each other for a lifetime, you don't care about any particular single day. Neither of us is a romantic person. We don't necessarily celebrate Valentine's Day on Feb 14."

In the quarterfinals on Thursday, Li will face world No 59 Monica Niculescu of Romania, who upset Li in the first round of the China Open in 2011.