Li Na of China reacts during the quarterfinal of ladies' singles against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland on day 8 of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London, Britain on July 2, 2013. [Photo: Xinhua]
Asia's only Grand Slam singles champion Li Na should play riskier on the court and come to the net more often if she wants to improve her global standing, according to her coach Carlos Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who coached Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles, said that at the age of 31, Li Na needs to make changes in order to win another Grand Slam title.
"She has to be the person to put on pressure and try to take an extra risk to go to the net and win the matches," said the Argentinean, who officially became Li's coach in August 2012.
As an aggressive player on the baseline, Li came out on top at the French Open in 2011. This year at Wimbledon, Li came to the net 71 times in the quarter-finals and earned 48 points.
Considering her physical condition, the coach said he is confident that Li can maintain a high level of performance for at least the next year.
Rodriguez said in 2008 that WTA players were still very poor with the exception of the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova.
Today, Rodriguez admitted that the situation has improved, but that he is still hungry to see more from talented players.
"She is in-between and not that far from the top three. But to make this last step, she has to take responsibility and risk more," he said regarding Li.
Throughout her career, Li has remained candid and straight-talking. Her strong personality has sometimes landed her in unwanted controversy.
"Why does everybody take the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova as icons? Because they have something extra, the flavor of charisma," he said.
When asked whether charisma and personality can help win a match, Rodriguez said, "For sure. If you have a strong personality, you are ready to take the responsibility and decisions by yourself in a very difficult or stressful moment."
After Li's groundbreaking Grand Slam win at Roland Garros in 2011, her performance had been inconsistent until earlier this year, when she made it into the Australian Open final but lost to Victoria Azarenka.
In contrast with Li's success, younger Chinese tennis players are rarely seen at high-level international tournaments. Of the world's top 100 female tennis players, just three are from China.
Although more international tournaments have been introduced to China and more tennis courts are being built across the country, Rodriguez said it's not enough.
"You can build as many courts as you want. But the instructive culture has to be improved," he said.
He said it's important to train players at 13 or 14 years old or even younger, because when a player turns 18 or 19, their skills are already very much fixed. He also said China needs more coaches who understand how to train young players.
Rodriguez moved to China in 2011 to lead Potters Wheel, a tennis academy in Beijing of which he is also a shareholder.
He didn't deny the possibility that he and Li may join hands to open a tennis academy after her retirement. But helping Li do well on the court is his priority right now, he said.