Li Na Biography And Detailed Game Analysis

Li Na became the first player from China to win a Grand Slam tournament with her 2011 French Open victory. She has become one of the most popular female professional tennis players and after her French Open victory she was ranked as high as number 4 in the world!

Her French Open victory was of great significance in China. Check out this short clip on her historic victory!

Biography

Na was born in 1982 in Wuhan, China. She comes from a sports-family and her dad was actually a professional badminton player at one point in his career.

Her career has taken some interesting paths. She first appeared on the Pro Tour in 1999 at the age of 17 and was quite successful on smaller tournaments in the ITF circuit. She continued to play until 2002 but failed to reach the Top100 in the world.

She then took a break from Professional Tennis and came back in 2004. She did not reach the Top30 until 2007 though, when she was already 25 years old. She is currently having a real breakout season in 2011 at the age of 29. This shows us that you do not always have to make it big at a very young age in Pro Tennis and that hard-work pays off in the long run!

Her biggest achievements so far are reaching the 2011 Australian Open finals, winning the 2011 French Open, and reaching a career high-ranking of number 4 in the world in 2011!

Game Analysis

Na is one of the most consistent players on the tour. She has solid strokes and rarely has a bad day. This kind of consistency day in and day out is what gets people to reach really high world rankings!

Forehand

Li Na has a solid forehand. She can create good but not exceptional power with this shot. She can pressure opponents in a sort of step by step way, moving them around the court and then finishing off the point by taking a short ball early.

She does not have the kind of firepower with the forehand though, where she can hit winners from basically anywhere on the court.

There have been times in her career where she shanked quite a few forehands and it still has its ups and downs!

She has great preparation which she starts with a solid unit-turn. She combines that with a rather short backswing that does not go behind her back shoulder. This compact swing allows her to take balls very early and pressure opponents.

One of the reasons she doesn’t have exceptional power is that she does not pre-stretch her forearm muscles as much as some other players with bigger forehands!


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Backhand

The backhand is Na’s strongest shot!

The motion is very smooth and efficient. She starts with a great unit turn and then continues with coiling and uncoiling of all the important body segments.

Li Na Hitting Groundstrokes:
A Great Backhand and A Solid Forehand!

Her backhand down the line is the one shot that she can really hurt opponents with and is a great example of the kinetic chain in action!

To learn more about the kinetic chain visit the Tennis Strokes page on this website!

Slice

Li does not hit a very good slice backhand. She starts the motion with both hands on the grip rather than placing one hand up higher on the racket. From there on she collapses the wrist and because of that her slice backhands tend to float up too much.

Volleys

Na really hesitates to follow shots up to the net. I watched quite a bit of her match highlights for this article and all I saw was one easy forehand put-away volley and a few topspin volleys.

It is therefore obvious that she does not like to come to the net. As a result she often has trouble finishing points and actually lets opponents neutralize with high balls way too much!

Li Na needs to improve her net game!

Serve

I would say that she has an average serve
for a world-class female player!

It is neither very good nor very bad. Her second serve does get attacked quite often but that is a normal procedure in the women’s game.

She does quite a few things well on her serve but she also misses one important element to maximize power on the serve. Her arm motion is fluid without a stop and she also gets a good body position at contact with the upper body pretty straight. This is often called the “Powerline”!

What she is missing in her service motion though is the separation angle between her hips and shoulders. This I believe is the reason that she is only an average server!

Basically she does not turn away from the target with her upper body and therefore she misses one element of the kinetic chain. Improving this aspect should result in a much more effective serve!

Have A Look At This Slow Mo Video
Can You See The Missing Separation Angle ?

Tactical

Na is neither a power-hitter nor a counter-pouncher
I see her game somewhere in between!

She can play reasonably powerful and she can counter-punch well. Everything is based around her consistency from offensive as well as defensive positions.

I do think that she needs to improve her tactics though to be a consistent threat to win majors in the future.

She needs to play more aggressive in a lot of situations and she needs to learn to follow up good shots and finish points at the net better!

If you want to beat the top players in their best form in the majors you need to go for some big shots. Li Na is the kind of player that will beat them when they have an average day, but so far I haven’t seen her aggressive enough to beat the world’s best when they are playing at their best!

Listen To Her Coach Talking About Her Game!

Physical

Na is a phenomenal mover on the tennis court. I believe that her physical fitness is by far her biggest strength!

Watching her move around the court you can see how well she keeps her low centre of gravity throughout the rally. Very few players on the women’s tour manage to move this well!

Another thing to note is how well she adjusts with her feet right before every shot. The best movers use a lot of small adjustment steps to make sure they are perfectly positioned and she is excellent at doing this!

In 2010 I actually was fortunate enough to see her workout when I was coaching a player at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart. This was during the qualifying so Li Na was preparing for her upcoming match one or two days later.

She performed a very high intensity workout including sprints and agility drills as a warm-up! This kind of workout would challenge most upcoming junior players as a full conditioning session rather than a warm-up session!

Mental

Consistency is one of her biggest strengths and I believe this is caused by being very balanced emotionally. Even when some players are on a run against her she will continue to play solid tennis and wait for them to get back to a normal level.

At 29 years of age she has a lot of routine as a professional tennis player as well and that can be a big advantage to some of the really young girls that she competes against!

Ranking

I decided on the following order for her skills ranking:

1. Physical
2. Mental
3. Technical
4. Tactical

Coaching Recommendation

First and foremost I would advise her to work on playing more offensive whenever she gets a chance!

She needs to step in, take balls early and learn to follow the good shots up to the net. Then she needs to actually practice her net game to make sure she can end those points at the net!

Improving the net game will probably take a bit of time but should certainly be worth the effort!

The other thing I think Li Na should work on is improving her serve technique. Adding a little more separation angle by turning away from the target a bit more should not be too difficult and will most likely result in a nice little power boost on her serve!

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