Li beats 1 Williams sister, readies for next 1

BY foxsports • January 27, 2010

Already further into a Grand Slam tournament than she's ever been, Li Na is reluctant to say it has taken her best tennis to reach the Australian Open semifinals.

``I don't want say yes, because tournament not finished yet,'' Li said after her stunning comeback victory over Venus Williams on Wednesday.

That win made history - landing two Chinese players in the semifinals of the one Grand Slam event for the first time.

On court after her 2-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 quarterfinal win, a beaming Li called it: ``Best day for my whole life.''

Li is on track for a top 10 ranking - her highest so far was No. 15 last October - and joins compatriot Zheng Jie in the semifinals.

``Good for both players. Also good for China's tennis,'' Li said. ``Also good for the fans. Thank you.''

After losing the first set Tuesday and trailing in the second, Li seemed to compose herself and regain focus, though both she and Williams were beset by errors throughout.

Li admitted she was nervous in the first set against Williams' aggressive play.

``Then second set I was feeling a little bit better, but still was like 5-3 down,'' she said. ``Then I just try to play more ball back. Maybe have chance and then I do it.''

Li's win against one Williams sister puts her on court against the another - defending champion Serena - in the semifinals.

Zheng's next opponent is former No. 1-ranked Justine Henin, who is blazing through her comeback to tennis.

The Chinese women who have advanced through the Australian Open are two of the four who opted to leave China's state sports federation at the end of 2008.

The move gave them the freedom for the first time to choose their own coaches and schedules and keep most of their winnings - previously the state body collected 60 percent; now Li pays them just 12 percent.

While the players must now pay their own way to tournaments, Li sees some personal advantages in her new regimen with her own team.

``Right now I was feeling good because I have my team come with me,'' she said. ``And then because I'm lazy, so right now if I didn't want practice I just tell my team, 'We take day off.' Before, if came with national team, I say, 'Can I take a day off?' and maybe they say no to me.''

Li said being released from the state system has given her a broader tennis experience.

She is coached by her husband, Jiang Shan, and Swede Thomas Hogstedt, a former No. 35 singles player who coached Tommy Haas back into the top 10 in 2006 and then the Chinese national women's team in 2008.

``After Olympics, I come talk with him and I say, 'Please help me,''' Li said.

Hogstedt explained in a 2008 presentation that he worked with Li on her mental game - making her believe she had top 10 potential - and practicing with different types of players on different surfaces to improve her technique and adjustment skills. He said he also capitalized on her ``explosiveness'' - her energy and fitness levels.

She credited him with teaching her to never give up.

``He was teaching me a lot. Sometimes he talk too much but nice guy,'' Li joked.

Her surprise ascendancy in the tournament is cause for celebration. And as for the projected top 10 spot when the rankings are released next week?

``So exciting. Maybe I take the beer tonight,'' Li said. ``Because the goal, my goal this year was top 10.''

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