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Tennis | Australian Open

Li advances to Aus Open semis



Li Na's superior strength and fitness told as she reached the Australian Open semifinals on Tuesday after a pre-season training regime that was so tough, she considered quitting the sport.

Li reached her first Grand Slam semifinal since winning the 2011 French Open with a 7-5, 6-3 win against Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 4 who had been unbeaten this year.

It was a powerful performance by the Chinese sixth seed, whose physical prowess allowed her to dominate diminutive Pole Radwanska after an erratic first set.

Li was formerly coached by her husband, Jiang Shan, but Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former handler, took the reins last year.

But Li, 30, said she was so exhausted after three days of off-season training in December that she told Jiang her career could be over.

"We train every day for five, six hours, but not only playing tennis," Li said. "Tennis was like maybe two, three hours. Fitness was for two or three hours as well.

"First time I was training with him, I was so excited, but after three days, I was dying. My husband didn't come with me to Beijing.

"I called him and said, 'Carlos is crazy'. He was like, 'Why?' I described the program to him. He was like, 'Don't joke'. I said, 'Hey, listen, I'm not making a joke."

She added: "After three days I was really tired. I called my husband and said, 'I really want to retire'. It was only three days. How could I continue for three weeks or all the year?"

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However, the work has paid off with Li just one match away from her third Grand Slam final, and second in Australia. She will play either world No 2 Maria Sharapova or Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday.

Li also conceded her off-court life was less complicated now her husband was no longer her coach, and said she was now happier than during previous times in her career.

"We always had good communication but coach and husband is a tough balance," she said. "He was doing a very good job, but it was very tough.

"Because sometimes if he said we should do something, I was feeling like, I'm tired. You're my husband. Why should you be training me so hard?

"I forgot he was coach as well. That's sometimes why we have to fight, we have the shouting.

"The funny thing is, two years ago, in China, someone said I was divorced. They thought because we were always shouting, maybe we divorced. They ask me, 'Li Na, we hear you are divorced?'"

She added that she felt comfortable playing at the Australian Open, where she reached her first Grand Slam final in 2011 and has now reached the semifinals three times.

"It feels like a home tournament for me," she said.

NEW RECORD AS SHARAPOVA STORMS INTO SEMIS

Record-setting world No 2 Maria Sharapova reached the Australian Open semifinals for the loss of just nine games as she blitzed fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Tuesday.

Sharapova, seeking her fifth Grand Slam title and her second in Melbourne, smashed Makarova 6-2, 6-2 in 1hr 6min to set up a semifinal with China's sixth seed Li Na.

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Sharapova, who 'double-bagelled' her first two matches 6-0, 6-0, and then beat Venus Williams 6-1, 6-3 and Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-0, betters Monica Seles' Australian Open record of losing only 12 games before the semis.

Despite the scoreline, she insisted it had been close against Makarova, against whom she has never lost in five matches.

"No matter what our record is, we always have close matches," she said.

"It was quite close in the beginning today, we exchanged breaks of serves, but I think I ended up being the more aggressive player.

"Today was a matter of staying focused because I know how excited she was to play me."

Sharapova drew first blood when she broke Makarova in the third game of the first set, but Makarova immediately retrieved the break to level at two-all.

That was as close as it got. Makarova, who beat 15-time major champion Serena Williams in the fourth round at the Australian Open last year, was unable to settle, dropping serve again before Sharaporova tore through the remainder of the 31-minute opening set.

The French Open champion took unstoppable momentum into the second set and immediately skipped to a 2-0 lead. A streak of six straight games ended when Makarova finally held serve to get on the scoreboard at 1-2.

Sharapova took a 5-1 lead on the back of powerful serving and her trademark forehand. Makarova offered only token resistance as Sharapova booked her berth against Li, who defeated world No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 earlier on Tuesday.

Sharapova leads the head-to-head 8-4 against Li. And she denied she was underdone for the semifinals after shipping just nine games in five matches.

"I don't want to give my opponents the chance to test me," she said. "Do I want them to test me? Would I prefer that? Absolutely not."

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