Li Na struggles through to victory in Shenzhen Open
Chinese No 1's seventh career title lifts her confidence a week before Melbourne grand slam
Top-seeded Li Na survived a mid-match meltdown to overcome Czech Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 in the final of the inaugural Shenzhen Open yesterday, earning the Chinese No 1 a seventh career title and a timely boost ahead of next week's Australian Open.
World No 7 Li, who won the 2011 French Open, looked in danger of disappointing the home fans at an almost packed Longguang Sports Centre after surrendering her serve in the first game of the deciding set.
Li, who beat fellow Chinese Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-0 in Friday's semi-finals, hit back to win five of the next six games, but from 5-2 up allowed fifth seed Zakopalova to draw level at 5-5.
In a topsy-turvy finish encapsulating the match, Li collected herself to put together two solid games, much to the relief of the almost 4,000 fans in the arena. "It's always great to win a tournament, especially at the beginning of the year.
"It gives you a massive amount of confidence for the months ahead," said Li, who left last night for Sydney where she will take part in the Apia International as her final build-up for the Melbourne grand slam.
"But tomorrow will be another day. In the end, you still have to deliver on the court to win."
Li is undaunted by her hectic schedule at the start of the year.
She will have played four weeks in a row if she reaches the Melbourne final again, as in 2011 when she lost to Kim Clijsters.
"I also played in Hong Kong at the beginning of 2011 and then I competed in the Sydney event before reaching the final of the Australian Open. I never felt tired," said Li, who turns 31 next month.
"I will still try my best in Sydney [this week] just as any professional player would. I don't know how much longer I can play as a pro so I treasure every opportunity that comes my way."
Yesterday's victory was Li's second WTA title in China, following her breakthrough at Guangzhou in 2004 when she became the first Chinese winner on the women's tour.
Li, who picked up US$112,000 for her efforts in Shenzhen, will be the fourth seed in Sydney, a tournament she won in 2011, and will meet Christina McHale of the United States in the first round.
Li said age had made her a better player. "Although a player cannot change her style completely, I am now more attack-minded and more aggressive on court.
" I can also control my emotions better," said Li, who was ranked as high as world No4 after her success at Roland Garros in 2011, when she became the first Chinese to win a grand slam title.