CHINA’S Li Na joked that her stunning third-set comeback at the French Open on Monday was due to her husband and sometime coach leaving the arena – but said she could never bring herself to sack him.
Li Na, the sixth seed, became the first Chinese player to reach the Roland Garros quarter-finals by beating Czech ninth seed Petra Kvitova 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, despite falling 3-0 down in the deciding set.
It was at this moment that Li Na’s husband, Jiang Shan, chose to creep out of the Court Philippe Chatrier arena, and Li Na suggested that his departure may have tipped the momentum in her favour.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “Maybe just my husband left and I can win six games in a row!”
Jiang Shan, who married Li Na in January 2006, has coached her throughout her career but he has had to take a back seat since his wife turned to Danish coach Michael Mortensen in April after a troubling run of form.
Li Na explained that it was a reaction to a dismal run of five straight defeats sparked by her loss to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open, in which she became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final.
“On court or off the court, we are there every day, like 24 hours together,” said Li Na, the world number seven, of her working relationship with Jiang Shan.
“So we needed a break. And also, after Melbourne I didn’t do well. So I needed to change the team a little bit.
“That’s why I asked for Michael. He’s from Denmark. I asked him to help me, so now my husband is my hitting partner.”
Li Na and Mortensen agreed to work together for a trial period of three tournaments, culminating at Roland Garros, but she says she has already decided that she would like to pursue their collaboration.
“I would like to keep working with him,” she said. But after this tournament I will have to ask him if he has the time to come travelling with me, because he has a family. I can’t just say, ‘OK Michael, come with me.’
“There is no chance. We’ll have to communicate first and see how many weeks he can travel with me. We’ll talk after the French Open.”
Despite her early successes with Mortensen, Li Na said she would never contemplate ending her professional relationship with her husband.
“I would never say that,” she said. “I mean, it’s tough. He’s the husband, the coach, and he’s also working with the team. So I’ll try to never say, ‘I fire you.’“
Li Na faces Belarusian fourth seed Victoria Azarenka today for a place in the semi-finals. — AFP