Li Na doesn't always play up to her coach Carlos Rodriguez’s super-high standards, but the sixth seed showed terrific form early in her 6-2 7-5 victory over Belarusian Olga Govortsova in the second round of Australian Open 2013.
The 2011 Australian Open finalist has been trying to move forward more frequently in her reincarnation under Rodriguez, the former coach of 2002 Australian Open champion Justine Henin.
Li found herself playing deep behind the baseline at times against the free-swinging Govortsova, but the Chinese still dictated play in the first set with crushing winners off both wings and attacked the Belarusian’s second serves, frequently putting her on the wrong foot.
Li won the first set on a big backhand crosscourt – one of her favorite shots—and followed with a forehand swing-volley winner.
But the 58th-ranked Govortsova charged in the second set, breaking Li early and going for the lines at every opportunity. She had Li on the ropes well in to the set, but leading 5-3, the Grand Slam inexperience started to show.
The 2011 French Open champion, Li fought off two set points with a backhand crosscourt winner and a backhand down the line, and then held when Govortsova erred on a backhand.
Li then easily broke her opponent at love – Govortsova feeling the pressure to double fault for 5-5 – and held to 6-5 when the crumbling Belarusian committed four consecutive unforced errors. Li turned the screws in the last game and Govortsova responded with forehand errors.
Li ended the contest with 26 winners to just 10 from Govortsova.
“I was pretty good up until the end of the first set, but the second I was feeling a little cooled down,” Li said. “When she broke me I felt a little stressed. That’s the problem for me is I am always a little up and down. When I can focus on court I can put pressure on opponents, but I need to focus better as the tournament goes on.”
In a bid to revive her flagging fortunes, Li joined forces with Rodriguez, who runs an academy in China, just six months ago. She immediately reaped the rewards, reaching the final of Montreal, winning Cincinnati and making it to the semis of Beijing. She started 2013 in form, winning the Shenzhen title and reaching the semis of Sydney.
Li has shown great faith in Rodriquez, training with him in Germany during the off-season and allowing him to tinker with her serve and forehand.
“If I didn't trust him I would never sign the contract with him to continue,” Li said last week. “Also, before we (train) he tell me, ‘If you want one more step or want to be even more better, you have to change something.’ I agree, because if I didn't change maybe I still can stay like top 10, 20 but (not go up), so I was happy I can change in the mind.
“(In the) beginning it was tough … it's very tough to change. But I was happy I could trust him to change something in practice.”