Li Na is through to her seventh grand slam quarter final. And she is looking rather good. And she is sounding pretty relaxed. And she seems to be enjoying herself. We could be on to something here.
As the Australian Open gathers momentum and heads into the second week, Li is sitting pretty. She is yet to drop a set – so she has plenty of fuel left in the tank – and with the spotlight shining brightly on the likes of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, she is left alone to do her own thing in her own way. And, at the moment, her thing seems to be winning tennis matches.
Julia Goerges did everything she could think of to make it difficult for Li on Sunday, but after 54 minutes of huffing and puffing to lose the first set, she had run out of ideas. The sixth seed ran away with the rest of the match to win 7-6(6) 6-1.
Everything that the 18th-seeded German was trying to do, Li could do just that wee bit better, and once a superior serve and heftier forehand had made the difference in the first set, the fight went out of Goerges: she had done her best but the cannier, more experienced – and, let’s face it, higher-ranked – woman won.
Li is a remarkable character. She seems to respond to every match as if it were a casual knock-up in the park: she doesn’t gush, she doesn’t emote, she doesn’t explain. She just plays, wins and then goes home. So when an intrepid on-court interviewer asked her how she had turned the match around after that tight first set, she looked puzzled. What had she changed, our interrogator asked? “I change nothing,” she said, fixing him with a quizzical stare. Had he been watching a different match? Was he talking to the right player? “You just kept on doing the same thing?” he asked again, sounding slightly desperate. “Yeah.” Uh-huh.
Trying a new tack, our host took the interview down a new path. Who would she prefer to play in the quarters? Agnieszka Radwanska or Ana Ivanovic? Li wasn’t fussed one way or the other. Turning round to check on the whereabouts of her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, she shrugged her shoulders. “Ah, coach has gone to watch their match,” she said. “It’s his job now.” And with that, she was off.
Rodriguez has been doing his best to try and instill in Li a sense of calm authority on the court. He does not want her to go for too much or too little, he just wants her to play her game whatever the circumstances. And by the looks of it, Li is a model student.
For the record, Li has a winning record over both Ivanovic and Radwanska, although her only outing against Ivanovic ended abruptly when the Serb pulled up injured after just one set in Berlin back in 2006. But should she get through to the semi-finals, Li will find herself facing either Ekaterina Makarova or Maria Sharapova. Now that really will be a test of just how relaxed she can be with Rodriguez to guide her.