January 17, 2014
‘Coach Saved My Marriage,’ claims Li Na
She looks Chinese, her accent is Chinese, she is Chinese. It’s just that every word which dances out of Li Na’s mouth could have been spoken by a thoroughly modern woman from the west.
Regular visitors to this website will know what we think about Li Na, the wonderful contribution she makes to East-West relations just by being herself; the positive power in her beautiful smile.
That interview in Melbourne
In Melbourne, she has proved her worth yet again, after surviving a match point against Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. Do you know another famous Chinese who would open with such wit and irony, then follow up with quite such arresting honesty about her personal life on camera?
I am referring to Li Na’s on-court interview, conducted just seconds after she had prevailed in a sporting war against a talented adversary.
More about the match in a moment, but this time the interview lingers most vividly in the memory.
‘Yes I didn’t think it was warm enough, so I made sure we played three sets,’ said Li Na with a typically amusing piece of analysis, later offset by the further suffering in the extreme heat of some less durable male competitors in sweltering Melbourne.
Yet Li Na had already made us smile by insisting that she spoke to the world from a shady spot, out of the piercing Melbourne sun. Why face more rays than she had to, right?
When asked about her ‘new’ coach Carlos Rodriguez (we all know he isn’t exactly new any more, but never mind), her response was startling in its simplicity.
‘He saved my marriage,’ she announced, perhaps only half-joking, for she has hinted at this before. ‘Husband is husband, coach is coach.’ She was of course referring to the previously-complicated situation that saw Jiang Shan coach her, win her heart and infuriate her all at the same time.
Tennis with Dennis
At least with the arrival on the scene of coach Rodriguez last year, Li Na’s relationship with Jiang Shan – or “Dennis” as he is known to westerners – broke free of some of the more aggravating tennis technicalities.
They still hit together – only fair after he had chosen the name “Dennis” for no other reason than it rhymes with “Tennis.” But he isn’t exactly calling the shots any more – if he ever was.
And when they are away from the courts, they don’t need to talk tennis any more at all.
‘It’s much better,’ she confirmed, though she pointed out that “Dennis” is still some way short of becoming a house-husband.
‘He doesn’t cook…but he can pay for me (to eat out).’
Coming from one of the best-paid sportswomen in the world, it sounded even more amusing, and provided a fitting conclusion to an interview full of feminine strength and humour.
On reflection, her entire approach had been so western. More western, in fact, than many westerners dare to be. And yet Li Na had already seized the moment to pay public tribute to her army of Asian fans.
There are plenty of those fans visible in Melbourne, and literally tens of millions of them back home in China. How many around the world?
Why we all love Li Na
Everyone loves Li Na, and few outside the Czech Republic would have been disappointed to see last season’s beaten finalist win through to the next round.
She deserved her victory, though it had looked unlikely when she lost the first set 1-6 and faced match point in the second.
With typical courage, Li Na hit back to win the second-set tie-break. She took the decisive third 6-3.
If she is to make a genuine assault on the Australian Open title this year, and add to her French Open success of 2011, she is going to have to work on the consistency of her serve, though. It got her into serious trouble at times against the equally-erratic Safarova.
Plenty for Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin’s old coach, to work on this weekend, then – but if he has already saved Li Na’s marriage, that is a pretty good foundation for further influence.
8 Years Together
Meanwhile the fact that Li Na and her “Darling Dennis” can celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary later this month – whatever her fate in Melbourne – is surely significant.
A happy, positive Li Na is a woman we will all continue to love, whatever our origins in this small and fractious world.
In her own inimitable way she has a knack of bringing us all together. She breaks down barriers, she reminds us of our similarities.
Unlike some in China, she isn’t afraid to show her feelings and discuss the imperfections we all encounter in life. She is a cultural miracle. And yet again, she has shown East and West how to connect.
Give the woman a Nobel Peace Prize, I say. And a comedy award while we’re at it.
Mark Ryan, The Mail On Sunday
Don’t forget, if you want to see Li Na and the other stars at Wimbledon this year, click on the following link and you can guarantee yourself a superb seat to watch the big tennis personalities at the greatest Slam of them all.