Melbourne: A smiling Li Na has pledged simply to enjoy her tennis after earning a second shot at the Australian Open title, two years after being outgunned by Kim Clijsters.
The Chinese world number six said she did not feel the pressure of 2011, when she reached her first Grand Slam final at Melbourne Park and raised expectations to stratospheric levels in her home country.
And after doing the hard work in training, Li, who stunned Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 in the semis, said she had nothing to worry about in Saturday’s final, when she will face defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
“Right now, what should I worry about? I worked so hard in winter training. I think now everything is just down to me,” said Li. “So I go to the court, pick up my racquet, enjoy the tennis.”
Li, 30, has been a revelation under her new coach Carlos Rodriguez, former handler of seven-time major-winner Justine Henin, and she has already taken one title this year, in Shenzhen.
In Melbourne, the former French Open champion has ousted four seeds on the way to the final including world number four Agnieszka Radwanska, who was on a 13-match unbeaten run.
On Thursday, she dominated Sharapova, the Russian second seed who had dropped only nine games en route to the semi-final, setting a new tournament record. Li admitted the victory was almost the perfect match. “After playing for 20 years, this is the first time in my life,” she said, adding: “I don’t know what happened today. I just came to the court, feeling like, ‘OK, just do it’. Yeah.”
Li lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the 2011 final, but then went on to become Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion at that year’s French Open. She said she did not realise how much she wanted the Australian title until she lost.
“I was really hungry for the title, yeah. It’s really the first time I felt I was really near or close to the title,” she said.
“So, yeah, I think this time should be, I don’t know, maybe a different story or maybe same story. But I will try.”
Despite a large contingent of Chinese media, Li said public expectations were lower than in 2011, when she was the first Asian to reach a Grand Slam singles final.
“I think the second time they think, ‘Oh, she won again. She’s in the final again’. Maybe it’s not so interesting any more,” said Li.
And she said part of her training with Rodriguez had involved learning how to keep her emotions in check, to avoid giving her opponent an edge and remain cool under pressure.
“Since the start of this year, I’ve tried to cool down on the court. Yeah. Like Hollywood (acting), you know,” she said.
“You don’t have to show opponent what are you thinking. A little bit like Hollywood, but not real.”