SPORTS: Chinese tennis ace Li Na — tenacity with a smile

One-on-one with Chinese tennis ace Li Na

She’s not as famous as Liu Xiang or Yao Ming, but Li Na, playing some of her best tennis to date in Australia, is more than capable of winning loyal fans as well as matches

By Christopher Johnson 26 January, 2011

Li Na at the Australian Open -- serve -- main
Li Na goes for a high toss in Melbourne at the Australian Open.

For more images of Li Na from the Australian Open by Christopher Johnson click on the “View Gallery” button.

If she wasn’t trying to win China’s first ever Grand Slam singles title in tennis, Li Na could do well as a stand-up comedian.

Interviewed on court after advancing to the quarter-finals in one of the sport’s most hallowed arenas, Li runs off the one-liners with the same hard flat punch as her winners on the court.

Asked if her husband and new coach Jiang Shan has made her a better player this year, she quips in fluent English, “I’m a better person this year.”

Even now my Mom doesn’t watch me play tennis. She’s so nervous. I think maybe she forgets me. I say to her ‘Please travel with me.’ She says ‘I want to stay home because I don’t want to watch.’
— Li Na, Chinese tennis star

As the Australian crowd warms to her footloose style, Li explains the difference between being coached by her husband instead of a Chinese national team official.

“I can take the credit card and buy anything I want. But, I can’t get anything if I don’t win.”

Asked if she will study her next opponent, she says, “No, this is my husband’s job. I will just relax and watch TV, that’s all.”

Making her mark Down Under

Relaxed and tanned, Li has played her best tennis in Australia.

She reached the semis in Melbourne last year, and two weeks ago won in Sydney, roaring back from 0-5 to beat Kim Clijsters and claim the biggest singles title ever for a Chinese woman. Entering the Australian Open as the ninth seed, Li has defeated bigger women from Sweden, Russia, Czech and Belorussia — all countries with longer tennis traditions than China.

Her tenacity on the court, and carefree smile off it, appeal to more than just Chinese fans in Australia, as even elderly ladies and beefy young males cheer “Go China!” at her matches.

“The first reason we like her is that she’s Chinese,” says Kuan Kuan, a finance student in Melbourne originally from China’s Guizhou Province. “She works very hard. It’s very inspiring for Chinese. Tennis is a tradition of England, but we are keeping up.”

(Article continues below photo.)

 

Li Na at the Australian Open -- fans

Na Li signs autographs and meets fans after winning her match last Sunday.

“Her wonderful personality will encourage a lot of people in China to play tennis,” says Chen Ying, a Fujian Province native now working in Melbourne. “Having her husband coach her is very helpful.Family support is very important for players to play better.”

 

Li admits she’s not as famous in China as basketball tower Yao Ming or hurdler Liu Xiang.

“If they watch tennis, people know who you are. They are so nice, they give you space. They don’t demand your autograph,” Li says.

“Chinese people are everywhere. Everywhere I play in the world, many Chinese fans come to say ‘come on.’ Before, maybe only my coach would come with me, now there are many fans.”

Fighting her way to the top

I think many young players don’t know about working, they can get whatever they want … After my father died, my mom had to take care of everything. It was tough for her. I learned a lot from her about working hard for everything.
— Li Na, Chinese tennis star

Though players coming from China’s harsh winter must adjust to the dry Australian summer heat, growing up in Wuhan’s 40 degree summer climate has given Li an advantage in Australia over European players from more moderate climates, says Pei Zhu, a Beijing-based cameraman, originally from Wuhan.

“Wuhan can be extremely hot in summer — 40 or 42 degrees. It’s an advantage for her in Australia over European women,” he says. “She’s the pride of Wuhan. She represents the spirit of the city: fight for everything, and be mentally strong.” 

Growing up in the 1980s, Li says her parents in Wuhan encouraged her to play whatever she wanted. She first tried badminton, which honed her reflexes and penchant for spraying the ball around the court to wear down heftier opponents.

Taking up tennis at age nine, she was 12 when she met another budding tennis ace, Jiang Shan, who would become a Chinese national player, her husband in 2006 and coach this year.

When Li was 14, her father died. Her mother, raising her alone, taught her about determination and the mental toughness that gives Li, now 28, an edge over pampered younger players.

“I think many young players don’t know about working, they can get whatever they want. They think ‘I need a phone, I need a computer.’ The family just gives it to them. They don’t need to do something to get it. After my father died, my mom had to take care of everything. It was tough for her. I learned a lot from her about working hard for everything.”

That Wuhan work ethic has earned her US$3.5 million, including more than US$100,000 already in January.

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Li Na at the Australian Open -- on the court

Li Na says her mother, who raised her after her father died when she was 14 years old, taught her the value of hard work. Li often outworks and outruns younger opponents.

It hasn’t been easy money, and she had many reasons to give up. Turning pro in 1999 and winning early, she dropped to 303rd in the world in 2001 and had to struggle through qualifying rounds just to enter tour events. She barely played for two years, and then lost several months of 2005 and 2007 due to ankle and rib injuries.

 

In her mid-20s, when many women burn out on tour, Li began to blossom. She entered the 2011 Australian Open at 9th seed.

China allowed her to opt out of the national training system, where she had to remit 60 percent of her tour earnings, to play on her own. That allowed her to remit only 12 percent back to the country.

She hired Swedish coach Thomas Hogstedt, who had been working with the Chinese team since 2005. When Hogstedt took over coaching Maria Sharapova, Li decided her best option was already close by.

Mixing work and play

I can take the credit card and buy anything I want. But I can’t get anything if I don’t win.
— Li Na, Chinese tennis star

“I chose my husband because he can understand what I do on the court. If I am nervous on the court, or shouting, he can understand. If not him, another coach might think ‘What is this stupid girl doing on the court,'” says Li.

“The most important thing for us is that we trust each other,” she continues. “He gives me positive thinking. After a massage, he will say ‘Your body feels good, you should trust yourself more.’ Right now we have good communication, so I’m more happy on the court. During the practice, if I don’t like some drill, I can directly say it to him.”

Like other couples who work together, Li says they draw lines between work time and family time.

“Life is life, tennis is a job. We only talk tennis when we have a match, or are practicing. We couldn’t talk tennis only 24 hours a day,” she says. “If you always concentrate on tennis, you get tired.”

Relaxed during a one-on-one interview in a leafy terrace overlooking fans milling around Melbourne Park, Li says she just wants to “enjoy the day” and “forget about work.” 

She takes advice from an Australian reporter on where to find good Chinese restaurants in Melbourne.

After Melbourne, her immediate goal is to go home to Wuhan to hang out with friends and family over Chinese New Year

She still hopes her Mom, who is “not a sports person,” will come to enjoy the tennis life, and attend her matches more often.

“Even now my Mom doesn’t watch me play tennis. She’s so nervous. I think maybe she forgets me. I say to her ‘Please travel with me’. She says ‘I want to stay home because I don’t want to watch.’”

Li says she hopes to spend more time with her mother in Wuhan after her career ends.

“After I retire, maybe I have to think about taking care of my family,” she says. “Now my husband takes care of everything for me. So after, I have to take care of him.”


与李娜来场单挑

晒得黑黑的中国网球一姐正以轻松的状态在澳大利亚墨尔本打出迄今为止发挥得最好的比赛
李娜在澳网公开赛上 -- 发球 -- 主图
李娜在墨尔本举行的澳网公开赛上发出一个高抛球。

点击“查看图库”按钮,可以浏览更多李娜在澳网公开赛上的照片。摄影:克利斯托弗·约翰逊(Christopher Johnson)

李娜要不是在为夺得中国第一个网球单打大满贯冠军而拼命,她或许可以成为一个很不错的滑稽演员。

李娜的四分之一决赛在网球运动中一个最神圣的场地里进行,她成功晋级四强。赛后,李娜在同一块场地上被我们抓住,开始了一对一专访。这位中国网坛一姐随手拈来的幽默感,就和她在比赛中的致命一击一样“给力”。

当被问到是不是她的丈夫兼新教练姜山让她今年的球打得更好时,李娜用流利的英语打趣道:“今年我成了个更好的人。”

现在连我妈妈都不看我打球了。她太紧张了。我想她可能把我忘了。我对她说‘陪我一起到各地打球吧’,她说‘我还是待在家里,因为我不想看你打球。’
——中国网球明星李娜

因为澳大利亚的球迷对她的自由风格越来越感兴趣,李娜解释了由老公做教练和以前跟中国国家队官方教练训练到底有什么不同。

“(如果赢了比赛,)我就可以拿着信用卡,想买什么就买什么,但是如果比赛输了,就什么也不能买。”

最后,当她被问到是否会研究下一轮的对手时,李娜说:“不会,那是我老公的工作。我只要休息放松,看看电视就行了,仅此而已。”

在澳大利亚留下脚印

晒成古铜色的李娜状态很放松,她在澳大利亚的球场上展现着自己的最佳球技。

去年她在墨尔本打到了半决赛。两个礼拜以前在悉尼,李娜在0-5落后的情况下实现惊天大逆转,战胜了克里斯特尔斯(Kim Clijsters),获得了迄今为止中国女子网球选手所得到的最高级别个人冠军。作为9号种子参加澳网,李娜已经击败了来自瑞典、俄罗斯、捷克和白俄罗斯的众多好手,这些国家的网球历史都比中国要长。

场上不屈不挠的精神和场下轻松的笑容不仅给李娜赢得了澳大利亚华人球迷的助威,就连老太太和壮实的小伙子们都在她比赛的时候高喊着“Go China!(中国加油!)”

“我们喜欢她首先因为她是中国人。”目前在墨尔本学习金融的贵州人宽宽(音译)说,“她打球很刻苦,让中国人深受鼓舞。网球是英国的传统运动,但我们逐渐赶上来了。”

(文章在照片后继续)

 

李娜在澳网公开赛上 -- 球迷

上个礼拜天,李娜在赢得了比赛之后和现场的球迷见面并为他们签名。

“她的性格非常好,能鼓励更多中国人参与网球运动。”目前在墨尔本工作的福建人陈英(音译)说道,“由老公担任教练对她来说帮助很大。球员想要打得更好,家庭的支持非常重要。”

 

李娜承认,她在中国国内没有篮球小巨人姚明或飞人刘翔那么出名。

“看网球的观众都知道我。他们都非常好,会给你留出空间。他们不会找你要签名。”李娜说。

“到处都有中国人。无论我在世界哪个地方比赛,都有许多中国球迷赶来对我说‘加油’。以前可能只有教练陪着我到处比赛,现在很多球迷也跟着我。”

努力向网球大师迈进

我认为许多年轻球手不懂得去奋斗,他们要什么有什么……父亲去世以后,我妈妈就必须独当一面。这对她来说很难。我从她身上学到了很多东西,学到了对每一件事都全力以赴。
——中国网球明星李娜

武汉长大、目前在北京工作的摄影师裴竹(音译)说,中国现在是大冬天,球员们必须重新调整,以适应澳大利亚夏天的炎热和干燥,不过比起那些来自气候相对温和的欧洲的选手来说,从小在武汉长大的李娜还是有先天优势的,因为那里的夏天气温可以到40度。

“武汉的夏天非常非常热,能达到40甚至42度。比起欧洲的女选手,李娜有这项优势。”他说,“李娜是武汉的骄傲。她代表了这座城市的精神:为每一件事而奋斗,并保持坚强意志。”

李娜成长在1980年代的武汉,她说父母一直鼓励她做自己想做的事。起初她打过羽毛球,这项运动提高了她的反应速度,而且使她倾向于将球回向场地各个角落,让更强壮的对手满场飞奔,从而拖垮对方。

她从9岁开始打网球,12岁时遇到了另一位很有前途的网球好手姜山。姜山后来入选中国国家队,2006年成为李娜的老公,今年又成了她的教练。

李娜14岁时,她的父亲去世了。母亲独自抚养她长大,让她懂得了决心和坚韧不拔,这正是今年28岁的李娜比那些娇生惯养的年轻选手更强大的地方。

“我认为许多年轻球手不懂得去奋斗,他们要什么有什么。他们想‘我要个手机,我要台电脑’,家里人就会买给他们。他们什么也不用做就得到这些了。父亲去世以后,我妈妈就必须独当一面。这对她来说很难。我从她身上学到了很多东西,学到了对每一件事都全力以赴。”

这种武汉精神已经帮她赚到了350万美元,其中包括今年1月份已经到手的10多万美元。

(文章在照片后继续)

 

李娜在澳网公开赛上 -- 在赛场上

李娜说,父亲去世时她才14岁,从那以后她的母亲一手把她带大,教会她努力工作的价值。

这钱来得不容易,而她又历尽了那么多艰辛,似乎有那么多的理由放弃这条路。

 

在1999年转为职业选手并取得了最初的胜利后,李娜在2001年的世界排名突然下降到了第303位,不得不在资格赛中拼杀,才能进巡回赛。她打了将近两年,然后又在2005年和2007年因为脚踝和肋骨受伤而损失了好几个月的时间。

在李娜25岁左右的时候,就在很多女选手在巡回赛中都精疲力尽的时候,李娜开始进入全盛期。

李娜在脱离中国国家队训练体系之前,必须上缴巡回赛中收入的60%,而单飞之后,她只要上缴12%就可以了。

她聘请了从2005年起就和中国队合作的瑞典教练托马斯。当托马斯跳槽去训练莎拉波娃(Maria Sharapova)之后,李娜发觉她的最佳拍档实际上就在身边。

工作和娱乐同在

(如果赢了比赛,)我就可以拿着信用卡,想买什么就买什么,但是如果比赛输了,就什么也不能买。
——中国网球明星李娜

“我选择了我的丈夫,因为他能理解我在球场上的做法。如果我在球场上很紧张,或大喊大叫,他都能理解。如果不是他,而是别的教练,可能就会想‘这个傻姑娘在球场上干什么呢’。”李娜说。

“对我们来说,最重要的是相互信任。”她接着说道,“他让我往积极的方面去想。做过按摩之后,他会说‘你的身体感觉很好,你应该更信任自己了’。现在,我们有很好的沟通,所以我在球场上更开心了。在训练中,如果我不喜欢某些练习,我可以直接告诉他。”

李娜还告诉我们,她和姜山就像在一起工作的其他夫妇一样,会区分工作时间和家庭时间。

“生活就是生活,网球则是一份工作。我们只在比赛时或训练时谈论网球。我们不能一天24小时都谈论网球。”她说,“如果你的注意力始终都在网球上,就会倦了。”

一边在绿叶成荫的看台上俯瞰着球迷们在墨尔本公园闲逛,一边放松地接受着采访,李娜说她此刻只想“好好享受”,并且“忘了工作”。

她又接受了一位澳大利亚记者关于墨尔本哪里有好的中餐馆的建议。

在墨尔本打完比赛之后,她的近期目标是回到武汉家里,和朋友、家人聚在一起,好好过个春节 。

她还希望她的妈妈,那个“不擅长体育的人”,也来享受一下网球生活,多陪她来比赛。

“现在连我妈妈都不看我打球了。她太紧张了。我想她可能把我忘了。我对她说‘陪我一起到各地打球吧’,她说‘我还是待在家里,因为我不想看你打球。’”

李娜说,她希望退役之后,能在武汉多呆些时间陪陪母亲。

“在我退役后,可能必须怎么考虑照顾我的家人。”她说,“现在是我老公替我在照顾一切,所以,以后我必须要照顾他。”

Read more: 与李娜来场单挑 | CNNGo.com http://www.cnngo.com/zh-hans/shanghai/play/one-one-chinese-tennis-ace-li-na-615936#ixzz1DoAOcyj6

 

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