MELBOURNE, Australia -- French Open champion Li Na credits new coach Carlos Rodriguez with turning her tennis career around -- and saving her marriage.
Last August, the 30-year-old Chinese star hired Rodriguez, who coached Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles, after the conflicts with her previous coach -- husband Jiang Shan -- became too much to bear.
"The funny thing is, I think two years ago in China, someone said I was divorced," Li said Tuesday after beating Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open against Maria Sharapova. "Because they were thinking, we’re always shouting, maybe we’re divorced."
"It’s just being coach and husband is -- how you say -- tough to find a balance!" she added.
Now Li and Jiang have found marital peace again -- fewer disagreements on or off the court -- and she is winning again.
Li hired Rodriguez after disappointing early-round losses at Wimbledon and the London Olympics. He joined her midweek at a tournament in Cincinnati -- they had never even met before -- and she captured the title, her first since her breakthrough Grand Slam win at Roland Garros in 2011.
She then won a second title at the inaugural Shenzhen Open earlier this month and is now in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the third time in four years.
Rodriguez has had a steadying influence on Li, who had previously struggled to control her emotions on court and has appeared more composed since starting to work with him.
At one point during the second set against Radwanska, Li lost her service toss in the sun and batted the ball five rows deep into the crowd. Rather than let the mishit unnerve her, however, she calmly made her second serve and put away a deft backhand volley to win the point.
When asked later what happened with that very wayward serve, she quipped: "I want to have good communication with the fans."
Then she said to her coach, "Carlos, make sure we practice on serve."
Two years ago, on her way to becoming the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the AustralianOpen, Li was pure entertainment in her news conferences, joking about her husband’s snoring and admitting she forget her own wedding anniversary.
After her win at the French Open, however, things changed. She began to put more pressure on herself at the Grand Slams -- and didn’t make a quarterfinal at six consecutive major tournaments. At last year’s Australian Open, she left in tears after wasting four match points in the fourth round against Kim Clijsters.
Now the humor is back. Li related the difficulties she had when she started training with Rodriguez at the Spaniard’s tennis academy in Beijing. After three days of six-hour workouts, she called her husband in distress.
"Carlos is crazy," she told him.
Jiang didn’t believe her, so he came to Beijing to see for himself.
"I was doing some exercises with Carlos. [Jiang] was sitting in the gym," Li said. "After I was halfway done, he was like, ‘Are you finished?’ I said, ‘No, only halfway.’
"He said, ‘I’m tired!’ I said, ‘Don’t say that. I’m doing exercises; you’re only sitting. Don’t say you’re tired.’"