The best-known antidote to shattered confidence is winning, just ask 2011 Australian Open finalist Li Na.
Na followed her first Grand Slam final in Melbourne, an entertaining duel with Kim Clijsters, by winning Roland Garros just a few months later.
But from there things went a little pear-shaped for China’s most successful player ever, with Li failing to win back-to-back matches for the three months following her maiden Grand Slam triumph.
“[During the] last half [of the] year, [I] just lose all the matches, doesn't matter who is [my] opponent,” Li explains prior to her first-round match against Ksenia Pervak on Monday (second match of the day on Hisense Arena).
“[It was] always like easy to lose the match. Also I feel I [am] losing all the confidence on the court.”
Gone was the tenacious fighter and in its place was the shell of a player who had lost faith in her ability to not only win matches, but to compete. External forces had combined to heap pressure on Li and she was cracking under the strain.
The smile, so readily flashed during interviews and moments of on-court brilliance, was replaced by a pained look of frustration as a season that started so well was unravelling before Li’s eyes.
Some time away from the court and the expectations that had grown out of proportion helped to clear the 29-year-old’s mind.
“I don't know [what it’s like] for other player[s], but I need all the time [I can get] to recover off the tennis court. I was take like one week off, no fitness, no tennis. I just really need [to] relax. After that, I was feeling much, much better,” she says.
“Tennis is [a] tough sport. We [are] travelling all over the world. Also, I think we have the longest season ever. Every year [we] have 10, 11 month[s] for tournaments.”
It’s this demanding schedule and a higher profile that Li says contributed to the pressure she felt during 2011.
“[At the] end of the last year I was feel pressure. Not from my team, but from outside.”
“But now I have experience already. This half year, I learnt a lot. I know what I should [be] doing on the tennis court.”
Of course, Li’s on-court success hasn’t just been a burden, it has also translated to some tangible benefits, most notably an improved portfolio of sponsors.
“[My] agent [is] doing [a] good job. More sponsor[s] [are] coming,” laughs Li.
And it’s not just the sponsors who have fallen for Li. Tennis fans have also succumbed to her alluring mix of on-court fight and off-court charm.
She is especially popular in her home country where Li says tennis is “getting better and better, bigger and bigger”.
With a solid pre-season behind her, Li is already reaping the rewards of spending up to six hours a day on court.
Four wins at the Apia International Sydney, including a come-from-behind win over world No.2 Petra Kvitova has Li firmly back on the winners’ list, which is where she intends to stay.
“Now I [am] feeling hungry again. I [am] still like tough and I'm back.”