Li Na looks to make more history

by Richard Eaton, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 24 2012 03:11 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2012 11:13 PM

ISTANBUL - Pioneering Li Na aims to make more tennis history by becoming the oldest leading player in the game as well as the first super-rich player from communist China.

Li, 30, secured her financial future and sought to extend her career soon after famously becoming the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open last year.

Now with the support of a renowned Belgian coach and a well-known American entrepreneur she has created a highly knowledgeable team around her which could see her last till her mid-thirties.

She should also make many tens of millions of dollars more than she expected.

Whether these ground-breaking achievements would help trigger a change of Chinese zeitgeist, thus enabling compatriot players to follow Li's uniquely independent path, is now a contentious issue.

She was therefore carefully evasive when asked about money but very forthright about the influence of Carlos Rodriguez, who coached Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles and is now helping to prolong Li's top level career.

"He has changed a lot," Li said. "And the first two days I hated it all because I had to change all the things from long ago.

"So, first two days I always fight - not against Carlos, I was fighting against myself! But after one or two weeks I was getting better and better."

Though they have still only been together for two months, Li thinks Rodriguez is a significant reason why she found the extra push to snatch the last place at the WTA Championships starting here on Tuesday.

Already the first Chinese player ever to take part in the women's tour's flagship event, Li is now one of the elite eight qualifiers for the second successive year.

"It was like so many people say - after Carlos came to my team, the change was unbelievable," she said. "I really have to say he's doing a good job.

"I was also happy to have him because I think he is a positive person and gives a lot of positive things for all the team. He make me training a little bit for strength in the mind, not only for tennis.

"So I think if I can stay healthy on court I can play another two or three years, for sure." If Li is right it would keep her on tour until she is 34.

She may also have gained mental strength from the enterprise of Max Eisenbud, who helped make Maria Sharapova become the world's highest paid female athlete and recently negotiated a three-year deal for Li reportedly worth $48 million.

Tossed a question about the likely effects of this wealth, Li wisely decided against catching the political hot potato, instead hinting at its effect upon the longevity of her career.

"You know I would like to say that after my birthday - I mean most like every second of the tournament - I was always asked 'when you ready for retire?'" she said.

"Right now I am feeling healthy. I can still run around the court. I can still play good tennis.

"I never think about when I should retire, because right now I really enjoy my tennis life. I will enjoy every second of every day."

This attitude suggests that Li, who is fed up with being 'retired' by the media, will continue for some time, generating a yet higher profile both for herself and for a pragmatic People's Republic of China.

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