China's rebellious top women's tennis player Li Na
yesterday sprung yet another surprise on the country's tennis
circuit, this time when the identity of her latest coach was
The man in question has never coached before, has no coaching
qualifications and achieved nothing of note as a player, but in the
eyes of the country's tennis authorities Jiang Shan has one crucial
attribute: He is Li's husband.
A former player for Hubei Province, Jiang has been shouldered
with the task of taking Li to new heights in 2007, the Chinese
Tennis Association (CTA) announced in Beijing.
Family involvement is not infrequent in international tennis,
but a husband-wife coaching set-up is a first in Chinese sporting
Romance is strictly prohibited in most national teams in a bid
to keep athletes focused on their games, and table tennis players
and gymnasts even face the sack if caught canoodling.
But CTA boss Sun Jinfang believes Jiang is the perfect man for
"I think Jiang is able to give Li what she needs most over the
coming years," she said. "For sure, Li is one of the most talented
players in China but her weak mentality hampers her improvement.
Jiang is exactly the right person to help her psychologically in
training and competition."
"Finding her a good coach has been a big headache for us. I
think this is the best decision we could have made right now."
A handful on and off the court, the 25-year-old from Wuhan,
Hubei Province, has spilt with five coaches since joining the
national team in 2003 and even criticized the CTA for not arranging
proper coaches for her and slowing her progress.
National team head coach Jiang Hongwei hailed the
"It is very common that girls have romances," he said. "Of
course we do not interfere with their private lives, but we will
help the players find a boyfriend when needed.
"I think romance is a kind of motivation for them. We are
playing a sport of others so we need to follow the way that
European and American players do things. It's totally normal for
top players to come to a tournament with their family."
Breaking Chinese records is nothing new for Li. Since turning
pro in 1999, she became the first to win a WTA event, the first to
break into the world top 20 and also the first Chinese to reach the
quarterfinals of a grand slam.
But she has never been far from controversy.
In 2001 at the age of just 20 she shocked China's tennis
establishment by announcing her retirement from the national team,
shortly after the 21st Universiade in Beijing in which she won
three gold medals.
At the Asian Games last month in Doha, Li blamed the crowd for
disturbing her after she was thrashed by Indian Sania Mirza, who is
35 spots lower in the rankings.
"Li is obviously a big part of the Beijing Olympic Games next
year, so we want her to play solid tennis and not be disturbed by
other factors. Now Jiang is there, hopefully he can calm her down
and help her keep on winning," said Gao Shenyang, CTA
(China Daily January 5, 2007)