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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

Tennis

Li Na gets chance of atonement against Azarenka
AFP
Istanbul, October 22, 2013
First Published: 18:20 IST(22/10/2013)
Last Updated: 02:22 IST(23/10/2013)

Li Na has a chance to atone for her ill fortune in one of the most dramatic Grand Slam finals in recent years as the round robin draw in the WTA Championships gives her a certain meeting with Victoria Azarenka this week.

The most successful Asian tennis player of all time looked capable of earning the second Grand Slam title of her ground-breaking career until she took two falls in the final of the Australian Open against Azarenka, in January.

Now the Chinese star has been drawn in the same group as the Belarussian, giving her a chance both to show that she is a better player past the age of 30 and the opportunity to settle an old score.

"I know they always ask me about this, the second oldest women on the tour, and I would like to say age is nothing," said Li.

"Hopefully this time I won't drop down," she added, referring especially to the remarkable second fall when she hit her head on the court and for two seconds saw nothing in the final set of that incident-packed final in Melbourne.

Li has won four times out of ten against Azarenka, and two of the three in Grand Slams. Significantly, they have not met since the one she lost, after which she received a huge round of applause from the Aussie crowd.

The 31-year-old from Wuhan has also been doing a good job at dispelling preconceptions which say she should now be in decline.

Not only has she maintained a place in the world's top six all year, reaching her third Grand Slam final and the US Open semi-final, but the quality of her tennis has lent weight to her assertion that this has been the best year of her career.

Li reckons her standard in 2013 has been even higher than when she famously won the French Open two years ago.

"I feel I can control myself more," she said.

"Mentally before when I came onto the court I had already lost the match. I lost to myself, not my opponent. Now it's not like before. At least I've learnt something. I'm still learning every day."

Li has benefitted both from the coaching of Carlos Rodriguez, the man who steered Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles, and from better physiotherapy.

This is crucial too because physically Li feels she has improved. It has reduced the tendency to slower recovery times and has made her confident in her movement.

"I think I have a very good physio ... I feel I move faster than before."

She concluded: "At least this year I always stay like same level, not like before. Maybe 2011 was when I won a Grand Slam, but in other tournaments I hadn't good results.

"This year it doesn't matter if it is a Grand Slam or even an international tournament, I always play well. Yeah, it is more controlled.

"I think I enjoy it more now," she said, producing her familiar and popular smile.

"When I was younger, if I lost the match, I was like, how can you lose the match? There were so many negative things in my mind.

"I am happy the way I play now. I feel, win or lose, it's a tennis match, you know. It really doesn't change my life."

Li's other two opponents are Sara Errani, the world number seven from Italy, and Jelena Jankovic, the former world number one from Serbia, against whom she has 5-0 and 5-4 winning records respectively.

She will therefore hope, whatever the outcome of her match against Azarenka, that she can still qualify for Saturday's semi-finals in the WTA Championships.


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