Chinese tennis star Li Na 'determined to be in top three'
Chinese star, currently ranked 6th, says new coach 'really helping'
Agence France-Presse in Melbourne
Chinese star Li Na said she was determined to gatecrash the world's top three, helped by new coach Carlos Rodriguez, after reaching the Australian Open fourth round yesterday.
Currently ranked six, Li, 30, kept on track at the year's opening grand slam by beating Romania's Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-1, and will next play 18th-seeded German Julia Goerges.
Li's highest singles rankings was four in 2011, when she won the French Open, and she has high hopes of bettering that with the help of Rodriguez, the ex-coach of former world number one Justine Henin.
"Of course I will try as hard as I can. I really want to be top three," said Li, who also made the final at Melbourne Park in 2011. To achieve her goal Li will need to unseat Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams, who are ranked one, two and three respectively, a goal which is out of reach at this tournament.
But with Rodriguez in her corner, she said anything is possible as the year progresses. Li used to have a reputation for fragility but she says he has toughened her up mentally, while also tweaking aspects of her game.
"Carlos is a very good coach," she said. "I started working with him and two days later, he just changed the technique of the serve, of the forehand.
"So, today you can see [it] in the match. I mean, I was playing a little bit different before, more heavy, the ball with more topspin, not flat.
"And Carlos prepares what I should do on the court, because sometimes I was thinking too much, so I couldn't concentrate all the time."
But if Li is to make the top three, she will need to tighten up the number of unforced errors (27) and double faults (six) she made against the Romanian.
"Before the match I was a little bit nervous because I have played her many, many times," she said.
"I know she can shoot the ball unbelievably, I never know if the next ball is in or out. I have to be ready every second.
"But it was pretty good today. I was feeling more in control again on the court."
Next up in her quest to boost her ranking is Goerges, who beat Li's compatriot Zheng Jie in their third-round clash. Li has never played the German before, but she was in no rush to brush up on her opponent.
"I've never played Julia Goerges before, but right now I don't need to even think about the next match because I just finished the match today," she said.
"I will just enjoy today, and the next match will come Sunday, so I'll be ready for Sunday."
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic reached the fourth round without dropping serve and Sharapova was also a class apart as she floored seven-time major-winner Venus Williams.
As baking temperatures which tested players on Thursday subsided, Djokovic, the world number one, found time to play some exhibition-style points with Radek Stepanek but still kept enough focus to win 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. Djokovic slammed cyclist Lance Armstrong afterwards, and backed tennis' urine test-based anti-doping regime despite fears it is outdated.
"We are keeping this sport clean. We are working towards it. There is awareness with the players and with the officials. As long as it is like that, we are in a good road," he said.
Sharapova continued her serene progress through the draw, obliterating third-round opponent Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 and throwing down the gauntlet to her younger sister Serena.
She said afterwards: "Well, I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she's capable of. Despite what she's ranked or seeded, it doesn't matter when you go out on the court. She's been there. She's experienced enough to know no matter if you're playing the third round, the quarters, or the final, you have to be ready."