Li Na looks ahead after rethink helped her win Australian Open

Now that Li Na has a Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to go with the French version named for Suzanne Lenglen, what will be next? Her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, is not about to declare the rising 32-year-old and almost-world-No. 2 destined for Wimbledon success, but, when asked to nominate her best surface, gives a surprising answer: grass.

It was at the All England Club last year that Li played the match that has most pleased her mentor in their 19-month collaboration, a quarter-final against Agnieszka Radwanska. She had been brave enough to do what Rodriguez had asked; subdue her fear of the net enough to advance towards it more than 60 times.

The result was secondary. ''She lost, but she was so happy at the end of the match, and I'm so happy,'' said Rodriguez, who only weeks earlier had heard a dispirited Li threaten to retire. ''I say 'you understand my approach'. It's [about] winning, but it's more than that for me. It's my job to push you to do something that you know how to do it, but you're scared'.''

Before Saturday night's Australian Open final, it was a different conversation. Delighted by the efforts the Chinese veteran had gone to improve her top-10, slam-winning game, Rodriguez told Li she would discover whether her heart would lead her to the title, emphasising that ''you do a great job, you do your best, you can not do more''.

A couple of hours later, the fourth seed was raising the trophy, charming the crowd and vast TV audience with her hilariously genuine victory speech, and confirming to Rodriguez the quality about her that he most admires. Humility.

As well as adding the despised net game, the pair tweaked her service motion and renowned backhand, while adding more topspin margin to the forehand that deserted her for much of Saturday night's first set but ultimately helped her to a fast-finishing 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 defeat of the plucky Dominika Cibulkova.

It was her second major, but first Australian title from three finals, and Li admitted that a rethink had been necessary to deliver it. "The choice always right, because if I really want to prove myself, I have to change something, otherwise I will stay the same level forever,'' she said, adding that so sweet was the taste, there may be more to come.

''When like last year I say I want to be top three, nobody believe. Beginning this year I say, I want to win another grand slam title. Nobody believe. More important is I believe, [my coach] believe, my team believe. That's all.''

As the oldest Australian women's champion, Li prefers to think of her ''maturity'' in terms of experience gained. Her campaign here was a sustained, deliberate process, whereas at Roland Garros in 2011 it had been so different, so surprising. And so, too, the aftermath, for she had no idea what to expect.

''First time to win the French Open I really didn't prepare for that. I didn't know what I should do after the win. Also, nobody tell me what I should do,'' she said. ''I think now is different because I prepare to win the grand slam. Also Carlos, he has a lot of experience because before he was coaching Justine Henin. We will talk about what we should do, of course. Because this time I think about if I win or if I lose, what kind of life I have. So for sure it's different than last time.''

As to whether there will be another, Rodriguez's hope is that, even at this advanced stage, Li can remain calm and stable enough to enjoy what, in some ways, is a new beginning. This tournament is hers, and the coach's joy came through her fight and spirit during what he rated as the most difficult part of the match, the tie-breaker. ''That for me is something very important for the future. If something is gonna allow Li Na to do it again is this. No other thing. There is no question of the forehand or backhand; you see she change the determination.''

Next among the slams is Roland Garros. But best? That may be Wimbledon, where last year's quarter-final loss was her third, but her grass court season with Rodriguez a first.

Movement is one key, he says, ''and … when I was with her in Eastbourne, she don't have idea how to play on grass. The serve and the things that she can do are much better [suited to] grass, than this kind of surface.''

The story Li Na looks ahead after rethink helped her win Australian Open first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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