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Crowd Favourite: From losses to laughs, Li’s heart has no limits

Li Na at a press conference after beating Dominika Cibulkova to win the Australian Open. Photo: AFP.

Li Na at a press conference after beating Dominika Cibulkova to win the Australian Open. Photo: AFP.

Happy, humorous and high on life, a bubbly LI NA held a lengthy press conference following her popular Australian Open victory in which the 31-year-old China No. 1 talked about the efforts taken to win her second Grand Slam singles title.


Does winning the Australian Open get the ‘monkey off your back’ a little?
I mean, at least, you know, I made it. Not like the last two times, always feeling one more step. But this time I’m really so proud of myself.


Were you nervous at the beginning when you were missing many forehands?
I didn’t miss all of the forehands, okay (smiling). Of course, at the beginning of the match, I think both of us were tight, nervous. Also I don’t think I had a very good first serve. But I am really happy. I tried to do my best on the court, to hang in there to see what I can do. But after I won the first set, I started the second set much better.


How important was winning the first set? Did you feel like you ‘broke’ her?
No, it’s not like I broke her. It’s like if you win a very tight first set, you think, ‘Okay, already one set in the pocket’. Like one foot already touching the trophy. So, of course, if you have one set in your pocket, in the second set you can play more aggressive, attack her.


In your previous two Australian Open finals, you won the first set, but lost in three. Did you ever think about that at all?
If I think maybe it’s the same situation coming again … I didn’t think about that. This is my fourth time to play a final (of a Grand Slam). I got more experience. I have to think about what I should do on the court. I don’t have to think about what I do in the past.


What was going through your mind in the middle of the first set when things got a little bit tight?

I was feeling I didn’t show up. I was nervous. I tried to hang in there till end of the first set or end of the match because I really didn’t want to show her or show myself. You know, this is tennis. If you show something to the opponent, maybe she will get the chance. So I really tried to stay calm and to hit every point.


Was it hard to keep swinging on your forehand in that first set?
No. I mean, at least I can hit a lot of winners in the second set, so I was pretty happy.


You didn’t really celebrate when you won. Why?
When she served, it was like 15-40. I was thinking, ‘Okay, after I win the match, what should I do?’ It’s amazing that I was already thinking about that. But after I lost the point, I was like, ‘Okay, don’t think’. Just focus on this point. After I won the match, I was really, really excited.


You’re the oldest winner of the women’s singles. How proud are you of that record?
I’m not old (smiling). Yeah, at the start of tournament everybody was talking about age. I would like to say age is nothing. I still can win a Grand Slam, so I’m pretty happy about my age. I have more experience on the court.


Our sport has a few top stars who are funny. When did you realise that you were funny? Does your husband ever say, ‘That’s enough’?
If he said, ‘Enough,’ I think we will divorce (laughter). You know, I will keep my way. Yes, he used to do that. Actually, I didn’t feel I was very funny when I spoke. I was feeling this is normal, this is the way I have to thank the team. But after I finished, they said, ‘Oh, we love your speech.’ I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I was funny.’


But you like to hear people laugh?
You know, why not? Everyone be happy for every day. Of course, I think that especially in this tournament I can feel the crowd supporting me even more.


Dominika Cibulkova said you came out and dictated play. Did you feel like your aggressive game plan was effective?
In the beginning, it was a little bit tough because it was more tight. Before I came to the court, I was telling myself, ‘Don’t think about it. Just play your game. Don’t think about the final.’ But the situation … you cannot think this is a normal match. A final is the final. The beginning was a little bit tough. But I think I started playing when the tiebreak started. I was thinking, ‘Okay, now you have to go, otherwise it’s very tough for you.’


Compare this win with Roland Garros. You always said that the French Open was maybe too early, unexpected.
I would like to say I really prepared for this one, for two weeks already. Every round, every day I was thinking about what I should do. If I play semis, I prepare what I should do; if I play final, what I should do, because I have already been in the final twice here. In the French, I was feeling, ‘Just go for it.’ I didn’t think about win or lose. But this one, I really wished I could do well. Maybe you didn’t know how hard I was working mentally to make this one.


Not many people win Grand Slams after saving match points in a match. Are you proud of that, as well?
Yeah. I think I should send an email to [Lucie] Safarova, say sorry and send a ‘smile’ to her as well.


You made a lot of changes in your game. You said it was because you wanted to be a better player, a great player. Is this a reward for that, that you made the right choices?
Until now, I would like to say yes. The choice is always right, because if I really want to prove myself, I have to change something, otherwise I will stay the same level forever.


You’re only 11 points from Victoria Azarenka at No. 2 in the rankings. Is that your next goal or do you have others?
Yeah, why not? Of course. I will try to improve my ranking, yeah.


You’ve won two of the four Grand Slam titles. Is it realistic for you to win all four in your career?
That would be the best.


Is it a target for you now to win Wimbledon and the US Open?
Of course, it’s very easy to say I want to win another one. But I think if you are a tennis player, you have to know how much work has to be done to win a Grand Slam. So, if I want to win another one or two, I have to go back to the court and work hard, even more tough than before, otherwise I have no chance.


You said Max Eisenbud made you very rich. How do you think he did it?
I have over 10 sponsors at least, especially after the [2011] French Open. I think it’s a little bit tough for him, as well. China and America have jetlag. Chinese companies don’t care about that. They just call him in the middle of the night, so it’s very tough. But it’s very good for him. Try to lose the weight. Sorry about that (laughter).


You had a bit of a tough time after winning the French Open. Do you feel you’re more prepared to deal with this win?
Yeah. When I won the French Open, I really wasn’t prepared for that. I didn’t know what I should do after the win. Nobody told me what I should do. I think now it’s different because I prepared to win this Grand Slam. Also, Carlos [Rodriguez] has a lot of experience, because he was coaching Justine Henin before. We will talk about what we should do, of course.


When you decided to hire Carlos, did you genuinely believe that you would be here as a Grand Slam winner or did it take time to believe it?
Like last year, I said I wanted to be top three and nobody believed me. Beginning this year, I said, ‘I want to win another Grand Slam title.’ Nobody believed me. More important is that is I believe, he believes, my team believe. That’s all.


You prepared everything well. Do you prepare also your speeches?
I didn’t prepare for the [post-match] speech. Because we were working a long time, I really want to thank my team. I was thinking that maybe I speak too much (smiling). No? That’s good. Maybe next time I should speak even longer.


Carlos was here 10 years ago with the champion, Justine Henin. Did he have any special advice for you today?
Today? Maybe not. I don’t know, because this is my first time to win the Australian Open. I think he was also busy after the match. So many journalists were catching him. When I see him, he will say he’s so proud of me. Of course, he always believes I can do well.


Where do you go from here after such a high? Do you go back to China for a few days?
You know, this year Chinese New Year is the 31st of January, Year of the Horse. I’m going back to my home with my Mum, with my family for a couple days. Of course, I have to go back to the court for hard training, otherwise my ranking will drop. Then I’ll just continue with the schedule.


Does your Mum watch the matches?
No. I don’t think she can watch. She says that if I play, it makes her nervous. Even now she didn’t send me text message or call me. So I’ll try to call her after the press conference.


What are the Chinese characters on your T-shirt?
My heart has no limits.


You talked about making changes to your game. Do you feel like you can still improve your game and are there other changes you can make?
Of course. I think I can. So many people think about, ‘Maybe she will stay the same way forever.’ But I will change. I was testing things and they were pretty good, so I’ll continue to try new things if they can help my game.


If you had to summarise the two weeks in one word or one phrase, what would that be?
Tough. No, it is. You see in the end, ‘Oh, she’s got the title,’ but the people didn’t see how hard working I have been, how tough the job was. Also, it’s very tough if I play Safarova, in 43 degrees, and we play three hours on the court. It’s very tough to hang in there and finally win the match.


When was your toughest moment in training?
The first time I had training with Carlos, I thought, ‘Okay, no more next year.’ Last year I was working with him, I was thinking about, ‘Okay, no more next time.’ I was hanging in there, trying to get used to it. If I see the result right now, I think I’ve improved a lot.



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