Li back on track after poor 2nd half of 2011
Li Na's best year on the WTA Tour was like a roller coaster.
She lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters, then won the French Open to become the first Asian player to capture a Grand Slam title.
She had a big dip in the second half of the year - a second-round loss at Wimbledon was followed by first-round defeats at the U.S. Open and a home tournament in Beijing. She lost twice in the round-robin stage at the WTA Championships.
But a strong training regimen in the offseason, followed by a short break, has her in better form ahead of the Australian Open. Li recently won all three of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup and advanced to the Sydney International final, losing to Victoria Azarenka in three sets.
Li said she's feeling ''healthy and strong'' at Melbourne Park, where she'll play Krenia Pervak of Kazakhstan in the first round on Monday.
The 29-year-old Li said she worked out five or six hours a day in the offseason.
''I'm feeling more tough, not like the last half of last year when I was losing all those matches, it didn't matter who the opponent was,'' Li said Sunday at a news conference. ''But I'm happy with what I am doing right now.''
The down time included a one-week break - ''no fitness, no tennis, I just really needed to relax.''
''Tennis is such a tough sport, we're traveling all over the world,'' Li said. ''I think we have the longest season ever. Every year we have 10, 11 months for tournaments. I don't know about other players, but I need time to recover. And of course, I was feeling a little bit of pressure.''
Late last year, the notoriety of her French Open victory seemed to catch up with her. She won only seven matches after her title at Roland Garros.
''A lot has changed in my life,'' Li said. ''Right now it doesn't matter where I play in a tournament, so many fans know who I am, not like before.''
She's also earned a healthier bank account.
''Of course, my agent is doing a good job, more sponsors are coming,'' she said, laughing.
Li's comical banter, mostly directed at her husband and coach, Shan Jiang, was a hit at the 2011 Australian Open.
She playfully complained over the two-week tournament that he kept her up at night snoring and that he controlled the credit card but had promised her she could use it if she won. There was a debate about their wedding anniversary date - he thought it was the day of her semifinal, she thought it was the day of the final.
''I make a lot of jokes about him, but it doesn't matter if you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly. I will always follow you, always love you,'' she said with a smile last year during an on-court interview after one of her wins.
The fans at Melbourne Park will be hoping for more of the same this year. Li sounds like she's ready to oblige.
''I've won six matches in a row, but in the second half of last year, I could not win three in a row,'' Li said. ''I lost all confidence on the court, I wasn't hungry any more.
''But now I feel hungry again. I'm tough, I'm back.''