Boot camp and cure for snoring helped Li Na

A gruelling boot camp and a cure for her husband's snoring have put China's Li Na back on track before the Australian Open, where she is among the favourites as she seeks a second grand slam crown.

Updated: January 12, 2012 17:39 IST
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Sydney: A gruelling boot camp and a cure for her husband's snoring have put China's Li Na back on track before the Australian Open, where she is among the favourites as she seeks a second grand slam crown.

The rejuvenated Li has been in eye-catching form in this year's early exchanges, winning all three of her Hopman Cup singles matches and reaching the semi-finals of the Sydney International, where she is defending champion.

The victories are stoking expectations of another successful run at the Australian Open, where Li lost in the final last year before making history as Asia's first slam winner at the French Open.

Fifth-ranked Li leads a strong Chinese contingent to Melbourne, after Zheng Jie claimed this month's Auckland Classic title -- albeit when Flavia Pennetta retired from the final -- and with Peng Shuai into the top 20.

Li, who turns 30 next month, fell into a deep slump after Roland Garros but she says the reasons for her revival are simple: intense training, and better sleep after her coach and husband, Jiang Shan, lost weight to curb his snoring.

"I say, 'If you put on more weight, you're divorced', so he change!" Li said, according to Australia's Fairfax media group. "He's getting better and better (because) he's losing the weight."

Li constantly joked about Jiang's noisy nocturnal habits last year at Melbourne, complaining his buzz-saw snoring woke her up every hour before her semi-final with Caroline Wozniacki.

Feisty, tattooed Li sidelined Jiang as coach in favour of Michael Mortensen for the French Open, but has now returned to the tutelage of her husband, the long-time mentor with whom she has forged her unconventional career.

Li battled hard with Chinese authorities to let her train with Jiang, breaking away from the state system, and was rewarded with the Roland Garros win which immediately transformed her into one of the country's biggest stars.

She admitted the distractions of fame, including public appearances and a bronze statue in her home city of Wuhan, affected the rest of her season as she won only one match at Wimbledon and was a first-round casualty at the US Open.

But Li said a four-week training camp in Munich had left her refreshed and reinvigorated as she seeks to add more grand slam titles before age rules her out as a top contender.

"After winter training I was feeling better for the season," she told reporters in Perth, where the Hopman Cup is held. "After the French Open I didn't do well.

"I had four weeks (in Munich), no photo shoots, no interviews, just very tough training... mostly for fitness. I want to keep healthy for the whole season. I am not young any more and do not have time to waste," she said.

"I have to focus on every tournament and every second and that is why I stayed in Munich for such a long time."

Li's success is pennies from heaven for the Open, styled "The Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific", with organisers stepping up marketing operations in China and reportedly hoping to attract 200 million TV viewers in the country.

The Australian Open trophies toured China -- their first pre-tournament visit to a foreign country -- in October, and last month Li hosted an exhibition tournament in her home city of Wuhan.

According to Fairfax, ticket sales through tour operators in China are up 30 percent on last year, and the number of Chinese journalists covering the Open has more than doubled.

"This is an important future market for us," tournament director Craig Tiley was quoted as saying. "Our objective is to bring over as many people from the Asia-Pacific region during that time of year, so they can spend money."

Pint-sized Zheng had not won for six years until she took the Auckland title, and the 28-year-old will be hoping for a strong campaign after reaching the 2010 Open semi-finals, equalling her best grand slam result.

Fellow Chinese Peng, 26, reached the fourth round at last year's Australian Open, a feat she repeated at Wimbledon and the US Open to achieve a career-high year-end ranking of 17.

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