It takes a team to build a champion

Updated: 2013-10-28 07:28

(China Daily)

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I set a goal of cracking the world top three at the beginning of this year, so to finally meet it in the year-end finale is a pretty nice way to finish the 2013 season.

To be honest, I think I missed quite a few opportunities to reach that goal earlier in the season, but they all seemed to somehow slip away.

After the China Open I had a long talk with my coach, Carlos Rodriguez, during which he informed me of scenarios for clinching the No 4 and No 3 rankings if I made the semifinal and final, respectively, at these Championships. And I was happy to see him greet me with a three-finger salute after my semifinal win over Petra Kvitova.

Things turned around a lot for me this year after my second-round loss at the French Open. Everyone has his or her ups and downs, and looking on the bright side, those difficult moments make you reflect on your mistakes and improve your game.

It takes a team to build a champion

Looking back at 2013, I am fairly satisfied with my overall performance. It is arguably the most consistent year I have ever played and I grew a lot, especially in the second half. I remember vividly that during that stretch Carlos told me I should do what I say instead of saying what I do. I listened to him, and now I'm No.3 in the world, which is great.

But this is not the end. I still have one match left, which is the final of the Championships, against Serena Williams. I'll just enjoy it and then take the vacation. That's my goal now.

The last time we met, Serena beat me 6-0, 6-3 in the semifinal at this year's US Open. I was a bundle of nerves before that match, because no player gives me as much overwhelming stress as Serena does. I felt confident early on, but after one or two games I couldn't find my rhythm. Maybe this time I will just try not to look at her at all. I will also try to do well in my service game and hope to break hers.

Carlos tells me that when I play elite players like Serena I should unlock myself and play freely with enthusiasm and not get too tight inside. That is difficult for me. Maybe it is the difference between eastern and western ideologies, but when I am outside my comfort zone I never try to talk to my team. I'm inclined to believe I am strong enough to get over the hump alone.

But that can also be a handicap. Great people never hide emotion - they show it. And they get others to help them become stronger. I used to feel uneasy talking to Carlos about all my secrets, but now I am able to open up my mind a little bit and share my feelings with him.

(China Daily 10/28/2013 page23)