Silencing the voices of doubt that plague Li Na's mind has been mission impossible at times for coaches and her stoic husband Jiang Shan, but the 30-year-old Chinese appears to have finally found harmony on and off the court.
The world number six will play Agnieszka Radwanska for a place in the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday, and is relishing being back in the big-time after a year-and-a-half in the grand slam wilderness.
'It's been a long time since I got this far, a jovial Li told Reuters at the players cafe at Melbourne Park. You could call this a pass-mark, but ther s still a lot of work to be done.The last time Li reached the quarter-finals at a major was in 2011, when she went on to win the French Open and become the first from an Asian country to win a grand slam singles title.
In the following six majors, the last 16 was as good as it got for trailblazer Li, who struggled to deal with the higher expectations despite the efforts of hen-pecked husband-coach Jiang. University sweetheart Jiang filled the breach after Li's split with Danish coach Michael Mortensen, who guided her to the French Open win. Jiang has since withdrawn to allow the retired Justine Henin's former coach Carlos Rodriguez take the reins.
The new arrangement has been beneficial for all parties, with Rodriguez helping to quell Li's mental demons, while harmonising the playe's marriage. "(Jiang) is happier with the arrangement, for sure," said Li, whose husband had often been caught in the cross-fire of her on-court frustrations. "I think the two of us feel a bit more relaxed about things. We've never quite been able to find the perfect balance between life and work. So there would be some friction at times.
"But now he's just my husband. So now both of us are thinking, why didn't we do this earlier? Indeed, Jiang was all smiles in the player's box as his wife despatched fourth round opponent Julia Goerges on Sunday, closing out a tense first set when trailing 5-3 in the tiebreak before hammering the German 6-1 in the second.
Li had a small eruption of anger during the match, when she sprayed an overhead smash into the tramlines, but she kept it to herself, rather than throw it in her husband's direction.
Rodriguez had played a key part in the defusing of Li, by having her open up