While she may not have reached the same highs as she did by winning the French Open in 2011, the Chinese superstar still produced a solid showing in 2012, retaining her year-end top 10 ranking, reaching four WTA finals – winning in Cincinnati – and showing a revived belief under new coach Carlos Rodriguez.
Strengths: Li is one of the more complete tennis players, an appealing package of power, athleticism and excellent technique. Her smooth groundstrokes are among the most powerful and cleanly-struck on tour, with their depth setting up plenty of short balls for easy pickings. Her movement is one of her most underrated assets, especially laterally – Li’s running forehand is arguably the best in the women’s game.
Weaknesses: For all her technical and athletic gifts, Li is extremely brittle. All it takes is for a few errors to appear – metaphoric cracks in the dam wall – and then one or two more for that wall to utterly crumble. And then she can be gone for the match, ranting at her support camp along the way. Who could forget her four match points against Kim Clijsters in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year? Once the Belgian had saved them, Li’s fight instantly drained away.
Opportunities: Australian Open 2013 represents a golden chance to atone for that bitter defeat, one which left her sobbing in her post-match Chinese-language press conference. Having reached the semifinals in 2010 and final in 2011, the tournament is by far her best major, and given she’s risen to world No.7 after being outside the top 10 as recently as August, she appears to be peaking at just the right time.
Threats: When the Chinese player is hitting her straps, history has shown only the very best can take her down, such as Clijsters or Serena. She’s already beaten both those players before – although Serena will be tough to unseat this year in Melbourne – and Clijsters is no longer around. Li’s biggest threat is probably her own mentality. Should the belief and the focus be there, she’s very much a title contender. If not, it could be an early exit for the popular 30-year-old.
Nicole Pratt, former world No.35 and Tennis Australia’s National Women’s Coach
“To me, Li Na is one of the best players out there … every Grand Slam I'm asked who my dark horse is; well, she's my dark horse. She's got the game to beat the best players in the world. It's just about whether or not she has the self-belief to do it.”