Simple, Straightforward, and Temperamental—The World According to Na

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By Bill Simons

LI NA—NO NEED TO HATE MYSELF: The WTA has shared some compelling quotes from Li Na‘s autobiography, Playing Myself, which is now being published in English under the title My Life.

On winning her first Slam, the 2011 French Open, Na writes, “The greatest gift that victory brought was peace of mind … I didn’t need [anymore] to cover my face with a towel or hide in the … bathroom while I wept. I would no longer need to hate myself for every little mistake. I would not have to continue torturing myself. I knew that my performance was passable. My internal referee let me off the hook, for once. ‘Li Na, this time you’ve done all right,’ I said quietly to myself.”

As for the challenging mental side of tennis, Li notes, “Tennis is a lonely sport. You can’t experience the sense of belonging that comes from having fought alongside your teammates. You know that everyone’s watching you, so when you get bogged down, you can only crawl along under their watchful eyes. You have to put all your effort into finding solutions, even as you constantly curse yourself in your mind and host an …  internal debate, looking for a crack in your opponent’s serve … This is all on your shoulders alone. You can’t even have any physical contact with your opponent. Your field comprises of the small boxes within those few white lines, a racket, and your own lonely and highly irritable mind. This sort of lingering, clinging solitude combined with waves of overwhelming pressure is enough to really drive a person mad.”

While reflecting on her personality, Na draws some international connections. “My trainer had an Italian girlfriend and had learned a lot about Italian culture,” she writes. “He asked me if I was of Italian descent … He said he felt my character was a bit Italian, because I could talk with someone amicably for the first five minutes and suddenly turn antagonistic. Being simple, straightforward, and temperamental was typical of the Italian character. When I heard this I wanted to laugh. From his description, Italians sounded a lot like people from Wuhan [China].”

A PIONEER IS ON HAND: The good news is that the beloved media pioneer Bud Collins—despite assorted ailments—is on hand at Indian Wells.

LAWN TENNIS: With all the expansive lawns and plentiful blankets and snacks at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, one sees scores of families lounging and relaxing. Hooray for family values. In fact, the place looks a bit like something out of a 19th century French painting. Or is it more a July 4th picnic with a theme park twist?

OVERKILL: With their blue hair and assorted walking devices, the crowd at Indian Wells doesn’t exactly mesh with the standard profile of menacing terrorists. Still some spectators are asked if they have any guns or knives, and on on one outer court there were seven security guards on court during changeovers to protect the players.

FEDERER FILLS STADIUMS, AND HE BUILDS THEM, TOO: The PA announcer at the BNP Paribas Open is into free-form hype and easy exaggeration. So Roger Federer went with it when the announcer claimed that the Swiss had made a significant contribution to the building of the dazzling Stadium 2. Showing surprising humor, Roger said, “I was here for months. I did a lot of shoveling. It was hot during the summer. I skipped the French Open and Wimbledon, but we got the job done. It’s amazing.”

THE ITALIAN JOB: Some observers are referring to this year’s BNP Paribas Open as Italian Wells.

THE ACCIDENTAL SPANIARD: After his loss to Alexandr Doglogpov, Rafa Nadal (who is still really not fully fluent in English) said, “It was an accident.”

AN EXISTENTIAL IMPOSSIBILITY: To get Nadal to say he should be favored to win the French Open—trust us, we tried—or to say he is the best clay court player  on the circuit. And God forbid if he ever would say he is better than Federer.

HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE? How sweet would it be at this time of crisis for American men’s tennis if big John Isner put together a big run and again reached the final of the BNP Paribas Open?

FROM FRIENDS TO FOES: Swiss whizzes Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, who are playing doubles together, could well face each other in the quarters if play goes according to form.

YOU CAN’T BEET THIS OBSERVATION: Alexandr Dolgopolov said the best thing about the Ukraine is the beets.

QUOTEBOOK:

“Whatever you do for the babies you should do for the seniors.”—Billie Jean King, contending that if there are green and orange balls and small rackets for kids ten and under, there should be the same systems and gear for seniors.

“It is a great on-ramp for people.”—Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein, on how World TeamTennis attracts people to the sport.

“She has a better aura around her.”—Lindsay Davenport, who says Sloane Stephens is playing her best tennis of the year.

“I couldn’t believe the play by Dominika Cibulkova. Every single point, so much energy and focus. She never wavered.”—Mary Carillo on the Slovokian, who whipped Petra Kvitova.

“Welcome to the crazy world of women’s tennis.” Li Na, after needing 11 match points and five challenges in one game to defeat Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak.

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