Li to kick out snoring husband in bid to break China's duck

Paul Newman
Friday 28 January 2011 01:00

Jiang Shan, Li Na's husband and coach, should prepare himself for an uncomfortable night's sleep. His wife, the first Chinese player ever to reach a Grand Slam final, is threatening to banish him from their bedroom as she prepares to take on Kim Clijsters here tomorrow in the biggest match of her career.

Having revealed that she had slept poorly because of his snoring on the eve of her 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 Australian Open semi-final victory yesterday over Caroline Wozniacki, Li had a different plan ahead of her big day against Clijsters, who reached the final with a crushing 6-3, 6-3 win over Vera Zvonareva, the No 2 seed.

"I think today he can stay in the bathroom," Li smiled. "Last night I was waking up every hour, so I said to him: 'Stop, I can't sleep.' My husband just said: 'Relax.' I said: 'How?' He told me just to relax. He just totally forgot me. This morning, he was asking: 'How did you sleep?' I just told him to stop."

Clijsters was the pre-tournament favourite to win the title here, but Li, who was knocked out by Serena Williams in the semi-finals 12 months ago, has good reason to believe she can become her country's first Grand Slam singles champion. The 28-year-old world No 11 is unbeaten this year and beat Clijsters in the final in Sydney a fortnight ago despite losing the first five games.

She will need to avoid the nerves she showed in the first set against Wozniacki. Li struggled to put the ball in the court, making 17 unforced errors in the opening set, and it was not long before Wozniacki, serving at 5-4 in the second set, had match point. Li saved it with a big forehand down the line and immediately thought to herself: "OK. Now I have a chance."

Two games later the roles were reversed and Wozniacki, on set point to Li, served a double-fault. Li made the decisive break to lead 5-3 in the final set and went on to serve out for victory as Wozniacki made forehand errors on the last two points.

When asked after the match what her motivation had been in the tense final set, Li replied: "Prize-money." She will get Aus$2.2m [about £1.38m] if she wins tomorrow's final or half that if she loses. Li will climb to No 5 or No 7 in the world rankings next week depending on tomorrow's result, while Clijsters will replace Zvonareva at No 2 in the list. Wozniacki will stay at No 1, but the 20-year-old Dane is still waiting to claim her first Grand Slam title.

Clijsters, runner-up here seven years ago, played some of her best tennis of the fortnight in beating Zvonareva in just 73 minutes in a repeat of their US Open final four months ago, which the Belgian also won. "I lifted my level compared to my other matches," Clijsters said. "I've played in a lot of big matches and you learn from them. I just keep fighting and try to be the last one standing."

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