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New coach has Li relaxed, ready to win

(China Daily)

09:11, October 24, 2012

Li Na and her coach Rodriguez. (China Daily)

Li Na's days are much happier since she hired a new coach.

She's not ready to give that up anytime soon.

"Although we've only been working together for about two months, we feel really good and we are looking forward to continuing our partnership into next year," said Li, who is making her second consecutive appearance at the WTA Championships.

The 30-year-old Chinese player said the most important things new coach Carlos Rodriguez have taught her is how to be herself, and how to relax.

"He is the kind of person who looks relaxed every moment - unlike us, who usually show our nervousness," Li said. "I used to feel very nervous before matches, and I was unwilling to share my feelings with the team."

Li's form slipped after she won her first Grand Slam, the 2011 French Open. She said the sudden attention brought more pressure than she knew how to deal with.

She bounced back after hiring Rodriguez following Wimbledon, winning in Cincinnati and locking up the last spot at the WTA year-ender during the China Open.

Li said Rodriguez has taught her as much about the mental game as the physical. Instead of directly teaching technique, Rodriguez always starts training with conversations about what's on Li's mind.

"He changed me a lot, I would say the first two days I hated it all because I had to change all those things from a long time ago," she said. "So in the first two days, I was always fighting - not with Carlos, but against myself.

"It was getting better and better after a week or two, and now I can share my thoughts with him when I feel uncomfortable in training," said Li, who said she is hungry for another Grand Slam title. "I am happy to have Carlos on my team, because I think he is a positive person and brings a lot of positive things to the whole team."

Li also gave credit to the rest of her team, which includes her husband and hitting partner Jiang Shan and fitness trainer Alex Stober.

"Many people say I have changed an unbelievable amount since Carlos came, but it's not only Carlos - I also have Jiang Shan and Alex. We are a team," Li said.

"The physio began working with me two or three years ago, and I haven't been injured since.

"I think if I stay healthy on the court, I can play maybe another two or three years for sure."

Li was drawn to the red group with world No 1 Victoria Azarenka - a 2011 Championships finalist - two-time Championships titlist Serena Williams and German Angelique Kerber. The draw was a tough one for Li, who exited after the round robin last year with one win and two losses.

"When you play in the Championships, you never have easy match," Li said. "It doesn't matter which group you are in because only the top eight players can play, and you have to play the world No 1 in the first game.

"I would like to say Serena is really tough, and if she is 100 percent on the court, nobody can beat her," she said.

The other four - world No 2 Maria Sharapova, Polish Agnieszka Radwanska, defending champion Petra Kvitova and Italian Sara Errani - were slotted to the white group.

The round robin will play out from Tuesday until Friday, and the final will be held on Sunday at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul.

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