WIMBLEDON – In her recent memoir, world No. 2 Li Na said she hoped Carlos Rodriguez, the man who helped mastermind her renaissance, re-shaped her game and helped her to win two Grand Slam titles, would coach her the rest of her career.
You have to take these things with a grain of salt, because the coach-athlete business is a precarious one even when the relationships look as solid as a rock. But this one really did.
The word Thursday night was that Li and Rodriguez have parted ways.
The Chinese star lost a shocker in the first round at the French Open, and in the third round at Wimbledon. The official reason is that Rodriguez no longer able to travel, and will spend more time at his academy in Beijing.
Sometimes it's difficult determine whether those statements are actuallly true, or merely an official "save face" type of official quote. Sometimes you see that sort of the thing and, before you know it, a coach is working with another player. But in the case of Rodriguez, who really disappeared after coaching Justine Henin her entire career, it seems to be legit.
His business in Beijing, which led to the relationship with Li Na, was the catalyst there. And agent Max Eisenbud told USA Today at Wimbledon Thursday that Rodriguez had a contract for another 18 months at the academy he operates, and that the owners wanted him back to do his job.
The Belgian newspaper Dernière Heure quotes Rodriguez as saying it was his call.
"I was the one who left her. In fact, after the Miami final last March, Madame Ding, the big boss of the academy in Beijing, made me understand that she needed my presence on site – that without me there at Potter's Wheel, more and more players were hesitant about coming. She was even pushing me to return by April, but I pleaded with her to let me do the two Grand Slams (French Open and Wimbledon) with Li Na. Now, she has a little time to prepare for the U.S. Open," he said.
"We discussed it the night of her loss to Strycova in London. She wasn't expecting it at all; she cried. It was a very tough moment. But she ended up understanding my situation. If I went to China, it was first and foremost for this academy, which has me under contract until 2016."
As for where Li will look next, that's an even more interesting story. When husband Jiang Shan was her coach, it was definitely getting a little tense; while that's probably fine for the short term, trying to find another good fit when you're a 32-year-old adult, headstrong, and seemingly in a bit of a funk, is a time-consuming effort that's difficult to pull off in the middle of a season – the long, hot, intense summer hard-court swing is right around the corner.