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No grand glory, but plenty to cheer about

(China Daily)

10:48, December 26, 2012

A change of coach has given 2011 French Open champion Li a new lease of life, writes Sun Xiaochen.

A lack of major titles in 2012 didn't mean it was a bad year for Chinese tennis as solid progress continued on and off the court. There was no Grand Slam title, like Li Na's breakthrough at the French Open last year, and that may have disappointed fans, along with the women's players' early exit at the London Olympics.

However, it wasn't all gloom and doom.

Benefiting from new coach Carlos Rodriguez's approach, 30-year-old Li rediscovered her winning formula with more consistency, while her male counterparts finally reached the Grand Slam stage with historic breakthroughs.

Older, and more mature, Li looks set to peak again.

Ending her year with one WTA title and the world No 7 spot, Li left the court for holidays last month in a much better mood than she was in last year, when her form fell away dramatically after the French Open.

The Hubei native got her 2012 season off to a flying start in Sydney with a runner-up finish before squandering four match points to lose her Australian Open fourth-round battle against veteran Kim Clijsters on the eve of Chinese New Year.

After that loss, Li fought back with four consecutive quarterfinal finishes (Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Madrid) over the next three months before reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros, where she fell to eventual champion Maria Sharapova of Russia.

Overcoming the summer disappointments at Wimbledon (second round) and the Olympics (first round), Li hired Belgium great Justine Henin's former mentor Rodriguez and soon won her sixth career WTA title in Cincinatti before making the semis at the China Open, which secured her a berth at the prestigious year-end WTA Championships.

Although Li didn't go beyond the fourth round at any Grand Slam event this year, she is now showing the kind of form which could see her crack the top three.

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