Li Na brings very famous friends

Updated: 2011-12-17 08:25

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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Li Na brings very famous friends

Star's weekend exhibition in Wuhan features Sampras, Moya and Lisicki

WUHAN, Hubei province - This is a show you don't want to miss.

It will feature four Grand Slam winners and a revitalized Li Na.

Li, China's first major champion, invited American legend Pete Sampras, retired Spanish French Open champion Carlos Moya and German female ace Sabine Lisicki to slug it out at the two-day singles-and-mix "Li Na and Friends" exhibition event this weekend in Li's hometown of Wuhan.

Emerging from the slump she's been in since claiming the French Open at Roland Garrros in June, Li looked to be in better form after a month-long training camp in Germany.

"I trained quite solidly and effectively in Germany. I feel much better now compared with the past several months. But how good my form is, I think it will be tested at this tournament," Li said on Thursday after being greeted at the Wuhan Tianhe airport by a cheering home crowd.

Li's performance in 2011 suffered after her French Open triumph. She finished the season ranked No 5 in the world with a 32-17 record. During a two-month stretch around the Australian Open and French Open, Li won 25 times and lost three. But over the next eight months, she went 7-14.

The 29-year-old also split with her coach, Micheal Mortenson, who had boosted Li's confidence during his five-months with her.

Her husband, Jiang Shan, began his second stint as her coach in September.

At least for now, Li is happy with her husband's instructions.

"Who said I've found a new coach? That's where the rumors came from. I am OK with him (Jiang) now," Li said.

Aiming for a mental tune-up in a relatively stress-free tournament, Li promised a fun, entertaining weekend.

"I just want to relax my nerves after the Germany trip. It's a feedback event for my home fans. I hope they will enjoy it I know I will," said Li, who was nominated as a candidate for the Laureus Breakthrough Player of the Year award on Dec 15.

Li will face Lisicki, who ended her Wimbledon campaign in the second round this year, before pairing with Sampras for a mixed double against Lisicki and Moya on Saturday night. The two men will have a singles match first, then exchange partners for another mixed showcase on Sunday.

After growing up watching Sampras on TV, Li said she was privileged to cooperate with the 14-time Grand Slam winner.

"I always admired his skills and play, but only saw him on TV. But during the China Open this year, I met him for the first time outside the locker room, and he said 'Hi, Li Na, I am Sampras, congratulations for the French Open championship,'" said Li. "At that moment, I felt he was much more kind than I thought. It's an honor to pair with him and I expect a pleasant workout with him."

Sampras said he is excited to team with a Chinese star again after playing with young ace Zhang Shuai for a China Open warm-up against Russian former No 1 Marat Safin and Peng Shuai in October.

"It's hard to compare. Those two girls are so young. But Li is a mature player who is better. And it's hard for me, because I am getting older and older. Anyway, I am looking forward to it," said the 40-year-old.

As one of the only two players to beat Li twice this year, Lisicki said she had no recipe.

"Yeah, I won both the two matches against her. But I have no secret for it. It just happened," said the 22-year-old. "My goal for next year is to fight into the top ten and try to win more matches."

China Daily

(China Daily 12/17/2011 page16)