EASTBOURNE, England, June 19 (Reuters) - Who can a woman turn to when everything falls apart? Her mother, of course - even if, in Li Na’s case, it necessitated a 12-hour flight from Paris to China after her early exit from the French Open.
Wimbledon might not be her most successful tournament but Li says she is feeling “totally relaxed” ahead of next week’s grasscourt grand slam, thanks to the flying visit home.
“I had one week off, I was feeling in need of having time to myself to relax. I couldn’t stress all the time, so I went back to China to see my mum and to see friends,” the world number six told Reuters in an interview.
”I really inside myself was feeling I had to go back,“ added Li, who would not normally return to Wuhan until after Wimbledon. ”I really wanted to go back to see my mum.
“When I unlocked the door my mum was like: ‘What are you doing here?’ So I said: ‘Mum, I just wanted to see you, say hi, have dinner, blah blah...”
Li left Paris berating herself for losing in the second round to American Bethanie Mattek-Sands at a tournament where she became Asia’s first grand-slam champion in 2011.
The defeat included a seven-game losing streak, and Li departed Roland Garros vowing to “talk to myself and my team to see what happened”.
So what did happen? The 31-year-old shrugged as she stood in Eastbourne’s sunshine.
“I was giving her the chance to play well,” she said, clearly having moved on from the Paris heartbreak.
Lying in bed until 1030 in the morning, enjoying home cooking and spending time with friends in coffee shops allowed her to recharge, and Li was all smiles in Eastbourne, where she was seeded second.
Tennis was not even a subject of discussion with her mother, she said. ”She doesn’t like to watch my matches because she says it make her nervous. I think she watches but she will never tell me.
“She was pretty happy (to see me), it doesn’t matter to her if I am doing well or doing badly.”
Twice an Australian Open finalist, Li has never done better than the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, in 2006 and 2010, and lost in the second round last year.
“Grass is a good challenge,” she said. “And when the tournament starts, everyone is the same. I will really try as much as I can.”
“Big Sister Na”, as she is known at home, has long cut a lonely figure in Chinese tennis, with only Peng Shuai, ranked 24th, and Zheng Jie, 47th, also in the world’s top 110 women players.
Things might, however, soon change, she said.
”I see a lot of very good junior players (at home),“ she said. ”But they still have lower rankings, they can’t play higher level tournaments. You still have to give them time to let them grow up.
“I always believe that in future there will be great players from China.”
Editing by Stephen Wood