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The agony and ecstasy of being Li Na's coach

By Agencies in London | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-29 07:42

The agony and ecstasy of being Li Na's coach

Li Na returns to Simona Halep during their second-round match at Wimbledon on Thursday. Anja Niedringhaus / Associated Press

Chinese star recovers from a second-set slump to advance

No matter how much work is done on the practice court, how much tactical input is given, how many motivational words are said, a tennis coach is simply powerless if their player self-destructs in front of their eyes.

That was the case at Wimbledon on Thursday as Carlos Rodriguez watched Chinese star Li Na go walkabout in the second set before pulling herself together to beat Romanian Simona Halep 6-2, 1-6, 6-0 on a sun-bathed Court Two.

The sixth seed, China's first Grand Slam champion when she triumphed at the French Open in 2011, eased through the opening set but after sitting idle in her seat while Halep received treatment to her back, she fell apart.

As each error flew off the strings of 31-year-old Li's racket, Argentine Rodriguez, the man responsible for steering Belgian Justine Henin to No 1 in the world, sank a little deeper into his seat, a look of resignation on his face.

"She didn't manage that time in the right way," Rodriguez said, when asked at courtside if the stoppage had caused the meltdown that threatened to see another high-profile seed tumble out of the championships.

"She lost her adrenaline. Li helped her opponent a lot to come back into the match. We have to continue to work on it. She has to be able to manage that.

"She went out of the match a little bit but I'm happy that she recovered to produce some good tennis."

He said being a coach was as much about psychology as the mechanics of the strokes.

"It all depends on her really. I'm happy but there's a lot of work to be done. There were two different players there today in the first and the third sets compared to the second," said Rodriguez who scribbled notes during the match.

"I'll let her talk to me about the second set. She had the problem, I don't know. For me it's unacceptable.

"It's about her personality. She couldn't accept that she wasn't ready to play (after the break). She put the head down and then took half an hour to get going again.

"She was fighting with herself, instead of her opponent.

"She's an unbelievably nice human being and that's what upset me a lot, that's what upsets me," he said.

"When I see that animal in there on a daily basis I say to her, 'How can you do that to yourself'.

"I say to her, I just want to help you."

Li began working with Rodriguez last year after being coached by her husband, Jiang Shan, who now performs the role of hitting partner.

The post-match conversation between Li and Rodriguez would have been an interesting one.

"I still didn't talk to Carlos because I think he went to see the next opponent," Li, who will have to be on her mettle against 32nd seeded Czech Klara Zakopalova in round three, said in a media conference.

"When I see him I will say, 'Please kill me right now'.

"I don't know what happened in the second set."

The match was a curious, topsy-turvy affair, with Li finishing how she started.

"Welcome to the crazy women's tennis tour," she said.

"I lose my concentration in the second set, but I woke up.

"This has been the worst Wimbledon, for so many big stars going out. I was sad, but at the same time I really didn't want to be the next one."

Li said she relished the pressure of having the world's most populous nation behind her as she battles for glory at Wimbledon.

Li is the third-highest seed left in the draw after Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani tumbled out early.

And Li said the weight of China on her shoulders was only making her tougher.

"I like the pressure," the 2011 French Open champion said.

"The people without pressure, how they can live? I mean, the pressure makes me stronger. I can prove myself, as well."

But she said the whole nation was not counting on her to win Wimbledon just because some bigger names had fallen.

"Why I should carry for the whole country? I'm only a tennis athlete. Only a tennis player. I try as best as I can on the court. This is my job," she said.

Nonetheless, she said she was not losing sleep about becoming the next big name to stumble at the All-England Club.

"Welcome to the crazy women's tennis tour!" she said.

"I know this is bad, but I have to say it's worse for Wimbledon, for history, because many big stars are out of the tournament, and also so many pulled out due to injury.

"So of course, I was sad, but the same time I got some motivation because I really do not want to be the next one out.

"The Grand Slams are very tough tournaments. It is the same for everyone. Everyone has the chance to be the champion."

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