In tennis, like in any profession, it’s nice to hear a new voice every once in a while. Someone who can look at your strokes or your tactics anew, or boost your confidence with a few well-chosen words. But what to do when your old coach—the one who’s voice you’re tired of hearing—happens to be your husband? Such was the predicament for Li Na, who reached her first French Open semifinal Wednesday with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka. At this year’s Australian Open, Li became the first Chinese woman to play in a Grand Slam final. Since her moment in the spotlight, though, she has redefined the word slump. She didn’t win a match in her next four tournaments, an uncommon run for a top player in women’s tennis. After a second-round exit in Stuttgart, she decided it was time to make a coaching change. “You’re feeling tired and you need a break,” Li said. “So I said, OK, we make a deal. We try to find a coach and try to stand again. I think it was good. Now he is my hitting partner.”
Li used to train with Thomas Hogstedt, who now coaches Maria Sharapova, her opponent in Thursday’s semifinal. (Sharapova advanced Wednesday with a 6-0, 6-3 drubbing of Andrea Petkovic.) When Hogstedt departed at the end of last year, Li’s husband, Jiang Shan, went from part-time coach to full-time, and it seemed to work quite well. Li played the tournament of her life and endeared herself to audiences the world over with her comments about married life after her matches. At one point she said she would love her husband even if he were “fat and ugly.” But love and tennis, it turns out, are not a perfect match. “Coaching your wife, it’s so difficult,” Jiang said. “Working and life are different.”
Li found her new coach, Michael Mortensen, in an unexpected way: via Piotr Wozniacki, the father (and coach) of Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Piotr is friends with Alex Stober, Li’s physical trainer, and recommended Mortensen, the Danish Fed Cup captain, for a tryout. Mortensen joined Li in Madrid earlier this month and she reached the semifinals. It was first time she had won consecutive matches since the Australian Open. She made another semifinal the following week in Rome. They haven’t decided to work full-time as of yet, but Mortensen is pleased with their start.