Australian Open 2014: Li Na’s bold switch pays off with oldest triumph

Li Na is the oldest ever female Australian Open champion

Li Na, the new Australian Open champion, is used to making tough decisions. Twelve years ago, at the age of 20, she enrolled in journalism school after giving up tennis in frustration at the insistence of the Chinese tennis authorities that she concentrate on doubles. Two years later, following encouragement from her husband, Jiang Shan, she returned to the sport and subsequently became one of the first Chinese players to break free from the country’s tennis federation.

On a personal and professional level, however, no decision was greater than the one Li made two summers ago. “It was after Wimbledon in 2012,” she explained here on Saturday night following her 7-6, 6-0 victory over Dominika Cibulkova in the final. “I said to my agent: ‘Please find a coach for me. I need to change something because otherwise I think I will drop [in the rankings]’.”

Li’s coach was Jiang, her husband, whom she had first met when she was just 12 years old. Thankfully the decision to find a new coach was a mutual one. “It wasn’t a very tough decision because both of us realised there was a problem,” Li said. “Of course my husband wanted me to improve, to be better.”

After her French Open triumph in 2011, when she became the first Asian player of either sex to win a Grand Slam singles title, Li saw her form dip, to the extent that she did not go beyond the fourth round of her next six Grand Slam tournaments. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, having been asked to find a new coach, lined up Carlos Rodriguez, who had enjoyed huge success with Justine Henin.

“Carlos had a tennis academy in Beijing,” Li said. “We decided it was better for me to train in Beijing. I can spend more time with my family and friends. I think it was a pretty good decision because both my husband and I are feeling much easier in life.”

With Jiang now her hitting partner and with Alex Stober working as her physical trainer, Li has found her perfect team. The 31-year-old, who is the oldest ever female champion here, made consistent improvement last year and won the Melbourne final at the third attempt, having been runner-up in 2011 and 2013.

“It’s not only about Carlos,” Li said. “Since I’ve been working with Alex I haven’t had an injury. I’ve been healthy on the court. My husband is my hitting partner and he does everything. I don’t have to think about too much. I just focus on the court. Even at the start of last year I was much, much stronger on the court.”

Stober, who previously worked with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Gustavo Kuerten, has been particularly important. While Rodriguez has helped Li to become a better all-round player, her athleticism and strength remain her two greatest qualities, as Cibulkova discovered. The Slovakian, who ran Li close in a tense and error-strewn first set, eventually found herself outrun and outpowered as Li found greater consistency.

Li said: “Even right now in training over the winter Carlos always said to me: ‘You’re much stronger.’ I said to him: ‘Don’t lie to me!’ Winter training was very tough, but I didn’t feel it was as tough compared with last year. Alex also said he had never seen me as fit as I am now. I was like: ‘Have you been talking to Carlos?’ I always say that I don’t care about age.”

Already one of the world’s highest-earning sportswomen, Li is likely to be in even greater demand with sponsors now, but insisted: “I don’t really care about these things. I always ask my husband. I say: ‘OK, you have to take care of the money.’ For me if I have $10 I will spend it all. I never leave anything. I really don’t know what I should do with my money. Before I would give it to my mum. Now I give it to my husband.”

Suggested Topics
Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone