Li Na vows to simply enjoy tennis after earning shot at Australian Open
World No 6 has 'nothing to worry about' after thrashing Sharapova to take a huge step towards winning her first Australian Open title
A smiling Li Na has pledged simply to enjoy her tennis after earning a second shot at the Australian Open title, two years after being outgunned by Kim Clijsters.
The Chinese world No 6 said she did not feel the pressure of 2011, when she reached her first grand slam final at Melbourne Park and raised expectations to stratospheric levels in her home country.
And after doing the hard work in training, Li, who stunned Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 in the semis yesterday, said she had nothing to worry about in tomorrow's final, when she will face defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
"Right now, what should I worry about? I worked so hard in winter training. I think now everything is just down to me," said Li. "So I go to the court, pick up my racquet, enjoy the tennis."
Li, 30, has been a revelation under her new coach Carlos Rodriguez, former handler of seven-time major-winner Justine Henin, and she has already taken one title this year, in Shenzhen.
In Melbourne, the 2011 French Open champion has ousted four seeds on the way to the final including world No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who was on a 13-match unbeaten run.
Yesterday, she dominated Sharapova, the Russian second seed who had dropped only nine games en route to the semi-final, setting a new tournament record. Li admitted the victory was almost the perfect match.
"I don't know what happened today," Li said. "I just came to the court, feeling like, 'OK, just do it'. Yeah."
Despite a large contingent of Chinese media, Li said public expectations were lower than in 2011, when she was the first Asian to reach a grand slam singles final.
"I think the second time they think, 'Oh, she won again. She's in the final again'. Maybe it's not so interesting any more," said Li.
"I'm not a better player than I was [in France in 2011], but I'm more mature," added Li. "I understand better how to adjust during the match, and know better how to control myself."
And she said part of her training with Rodriguez had involved learning how to keep her emotions in check, to avoid giving her opponent an edge and remain cool under pressure.
Azarenka, meanwhile, defended herself against a storm of criticism after she took a medical timeout at a crucial stage of her semi-final defeat of teenager Sloane Stephens.
Azarenka took a controversial 10-minute break when she left the Rod Laver Arena for treatment on a rib complaint that was giving her back pain and breathing difficulties.
When she left the court, Azarenka had just blown five match points, and America's Stephens, 19, was left waiting to serve to stay in it. On her return, Azarenka broke the teenager to win 6-1, 6-4.
Immediately after the match, Azarenka said she had avoided "the choke of the year" and "felt a bit overwhelmed", sparking suspicions she had called for the timeout to gather her thoughts.
But the 23-year-old maintained the injury was legitimate. "I had been struggling a little bit throughout the whole match, from the second set with my back," she said.
"And it just kept getting worse. I should have called the trainer a little bit earlier, before I got to the point that I couldn't really breathe and had to go off the court.
"So there was a little bit of, my bad back. But a rib got locked and kept getting worse.
"I had to have it adjusted. I really had to go and have that medical timeout."