WTA Tour

Na: I can do better still

Li Na (AP Photo)
Li Na (AP Photo)

Doha - Li Na, the Chinese star who won her second Grand Slam title last month and will earn a world number two ranking this week, believes the best is yet to come.

The 31-year-old has top seed status at this week's Qatar Open, the $2,440,000 event which is her first since her Australian Open triumph two weeks ago.

"I don't think this is the best moment of my career - the year is only just beginning. I can't just say I did well in the first one," Li insisted, referring to the Melbourne success.

"There's another ten months in the year.

She added: "It's only February, so I can't say it's the best yet.

"The future may be better.

"There are many more months in the year. I am confident I can still do well, so I want to prove what I can do."

What makes Li feel confident of continuing to do well is that her feelings after winning the Australian Open are unlike those after winning her first Grand Slam title, at the French Open in Paris nearly three years ago.

"It feels much, much different," she said. "It feels much better than my first big win. After Melbourne I was feeling not excited like the first one (Paris). That's because I know what happens. I have been feeling much more relaxed."

This different feeling has made possible a different, more informed approach which Li believes may produce her best tennis again in the future - and, with average luck, further big successes.

"After the second one (Grand Slam title) I started training hard straight away. Carlos (Rodriguez, her coach) helped me a lot to do that. I'm feeling much stronger when problems come up and I can be free of them. It makes my tennis life much easier."

Li has also analysed the benefits as well as the difficulties of reaching mature years, and thinks she can turn this knowledge to her advantage.

"When you turn 30 people say you are old. For me I was really happy because now I am healthy and feeling stronger than before.

"Age doesn't mean anything. It's a question of how you handle it, how you use it. With age you get so much more experience which you can use.

"I take care of myself better. You can see I never got injuries - except when I fell over! Otherwise I never got an injury.

"I have learned how to do things to avoid that. I have learned many things, for instance what I should eat and what I can't eat. I don't want to lose energy.

"I like spicy food but during a tournament I don't eat that because it's not always good for your stomach. I don't really like pasta, but I actually will eat that because it gives more energy."

Li will begin on Wednesday against either Francesca Schiavone, the Italian who is also a former French Open champion and similarly a 30-plus aged player, or Magdalena Rybarikova, a good all-court player from Slovakia who is pushing to get inside the top 30.

If she survives that, she could well face Sloane Stephens, the ambitious 20-year-old American who has already broken into the world's top 20.

This may not be an easy start for Li and being tournament favourite can also be difficult. "I can feel pressure but I have to find a way to calm down," she said.

"Even just coming here I was thinking 'don't think about it too much. Tennis is just a game, so don't put a lot of pressure on yourself."

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