Transforming trailblazer Li Na from a hot-headed one-slam wonder into a cold-blooded winner of multiple major titles is the end game for coach Carlos Rodriguez, who says the Chinese is primed to upset Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open semi finals.
Rodriguez has guided Li into the last four of a major for the first time since her 2011 French Open triumph, whipping the 30-year-old into the shape of her life and digging her out of a rut of self-doubt.
“Now she has to believe a little bit more that she can do it. I am convinced that she has the game,” Rodriguez told reporters of Li’s hopes in Thursday’s semi final.
“The main thing is first of all to believe in her tennis and her possibilities to go through the semi final which is very difficult.
“Most of my work, more than 90 percent of my job in the last 48 hours is on that.”
If anyone has the pedigree to push Li further, the wiry Argentine could lay claim, having overseen Justine Henin’s transition from a pint-sized teenager into a colossus of the women’s game.
In one of the most successful partnerships in tennis’s modern era, Rodriguez drove Henin to seven grand slam titles, convincing the Belgian that belief could overcome brawn, and finesse, raw power.
On paper and on court, the hard-hitting Li shares little in common with the retired Henin, one of the few on the women’s tour with the head-game to match Serena Williams.
But Rodriguez says the players share similar characters, and he feels a strong bond with Li, who has struggled to deal with the expectations from a nation of 1.3 billion people.
“In a lot of feelings, a lot of sensibility, there are some common points that are much easier for me to work with a player like (Li),” said Rodriguez, whose tanned and craggy features bear witness to a life spent outdoors on practice courts.