Tokyo: Chinese star Li Na remained tight-lipped Sunday about her decision to participate in Japan's Pan Pacific Open this week as a political crisis between the two countries deepens.
Last year's French Open winner remained stoney-faced and refused to respond to a series of questions about the row over tiny islands in the East China Sea, causing moments of awkward silence.
Had she thought about skipping the tournament?
Did she feel pressured to come, after Chinese badminton players decided not to attend the Japan Open this week?
Li only acknowledged that she was following a tour schedule that was set nearly a year ago, while officials at the $2.17 million tournament stood by to block questions with any hint of diplomatic connotations.
Tokyo's nationalisation of the islands this month, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, sparked violent rallies across China that targeted the Japanese embassy, consulates and businesses, amid reports of assaults against Japanese nationals.
Sporting fixtures between the two countries have been abandoned.
Competitors from Japan are staying away from table tennis, cycling, rugby sevens and ice hockey events hosted by China, while Chinese badminton players and archers have pulled out of Tokyo-based events, citing safety fears.
Li appeared to relax a bit when asked about her new coach Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former coach, who has changed her forehand and serve.
She also said she was looking forward to taking a vacation after an exhausting season.
Only three weeks ago, the 30-year-old said she needed to take a break from the sport after a shock defeat to British teenager Laura Robson at the US Open.
"I can't go back on the practice court straightaway. I have to take some days off otherwise this will kill me," Li said immediately after the loss.
But in the end she only had a two-day break after the US Open and resumed her training in a bid to qualify for the WTA Championships in Istanbul in next month.
"After the US Open, I wished I could have a long break. But I started training...because I just found a new coach," she said.
"We need time to communicate. I know my goal is to be in the championships. There is not much time left. I have to work hard, even more than before," she said.
"Things are getting better and better," she said. "I believe, even during matches, I should be OK."