Li Na of China poses with the trophy on Brighton Beach in Melbourne, Australia,
on January 26, 2014. Li Na defeated Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the women’s
singles final at the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament and claimed the title
on January 25, 2014. Photo by Li Jundong
Li Na hangs up her racket
By Ma Xiangfei and Wang Chunyan
China’s first and only Grand Slam winner Li Na formally announced her retirement on Friday of September 19, leaving Chinese tennis yearning for the next superstar.
Li, 32, made the announcement on her microblog account, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, a day after rumors about her leaving already were spread all over the Internet and social media.
Li called 2014 “one of the most significant years” in her career and her life, but it was also a year “filled with difficult moments”.
“This year was full of amazing highlights, which included winning my second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open and sharing the extraordinary experience with my country, my team, my husband and my fans.” Li wrote in a farewell letter on her microblog.
Experiencing ups and downs in 2012 and 2013 following her 2011 French Open triumph, Li found the top of her game again this year, bagging a second Grand Slam title in the Australian Open.
“The task of finally making a decision to hang up my racquet felt a lot more difficult than winning seven matches in a row in the Australian heat,” said the Wuhan native who quit tennis on the opening day of the WTA event in her hometown Wuhan, capital city of Hubei Province.
Li’s retirement came as a surprise but an understandable decision. Speculation has been rife since she pulled out of the U.S. Open and other hard-court tournaments because of knee injuries that flared up in July.
The tenacious player eventually surrendered to recurrent knee injuries that had bothered her entire career.
“The black brace I wear over it (the right knee) when I step on the court has become my tennis birth mark. And while the brace completes my tennis look, the knee problems have at times overtaken my life,” she said..
“It took me several agonizing months to finally come to the decision that my chronic injuries will never again let me be the tennis player that I can be. Walking away from the sport, effective immediately, is the right decision for me and my family.”.
“After four knee surgeries and hundreds of shots injected into my knee weekly to alleviate swelling and pain, my body is begging me to stop the pounding,” she added.
Her husband Jiang Shan told a Hubei newspaper that Li is currently receiving treatment on both her knees in Germany and will fly back to Beijing to attend a news conference on Sunday.
Looking back at her playing career, Li could leave without regrets.
“I have no regrets. I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place, remember? Not many people believed in my talent and my abilities, yet I found a way to persevere, to prove them (and sometimes myself!) wrong,” she said.
Starting up as a badminton amateur at five, Li turned to tennis and joined the ITF tour in 1996, the year her father passed away.
Li soon made her name as a promising star in the country, winning the national youth title a year later before she began to play in the WTA tour in 2000 but suddenly dropped the sport to become a journalism student in Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
In 2004, she came back from two years of retirement and lifted her first ever WTA title in Guangzhou.
Since then, she had been on the track of recording breaking, fighting into Wimbledon last eight in 2006 to become the first Chinese ever going this far at any Grand Slam event.
The real breakthrough came in 2011 when she won the first Grand Slam title at French Open for Asia.
“I’ve succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years ago was in its infancy in China. What I’ve accomplished for myself is beyond my wildest dreams. What I accomplished for my country is one of my proudest achievements.” she concluded.
With her achievements and controversial personality, Li will be missed as a unique and accomplished tennis great in China. [ The WTA Tour website dedicated headline stories to Li, who gave a huge push to tennis in the country of 1.3 billion people.
“Li Na has been a fun, powerful, and wonderful player on the WTA tour and, along with her fans, I am sad to hear that she has retired. In addition to her amazing tennis abilities and her warm and humorous personality, she is a pioneer who opened doors to tennis for hundreds of millions of people throughout China and Asia,” WTA Chairman Stacey Allaster said about the cover girl for last year’s Time Magazine issue which listed her among the world’s 100 most influential people.
The Chinese tennis association thanked Li for her contribution and gave her the best wishes although the two parties were not always on good terms.
Li once criticized the association for “unfair distribution of competition bonus” and refused at times to be labeled as “playing for the country”.
Li’s open letter on the microblog attracted over 70,000 comments and 150,000 forwards within five hours after her announcement.
“I am sad just to think about you leaving the court,” said one net user Stupidboy.
“Goodbye, Na. You will always be the pride of China,” said Wryuan_chan.
As Li waved farewell to professional tennis, China lost another high profile figure that enjoyed international fame. Former NBA center Yao Ming put an end to his playing days in 2011.
As far as tennis is concerned, one may wonder when next “Li Na” will show up or ever will.
Peng Shuai, four years younger than Li, reached her career peak this summer — the semifinals of the U.S. Open — and raised Chinese’ fans expectations on her.
Veteran Zheng Jie, 31, focuses more on doubles than singles while third highest ranked Zhang Shuai, world No. 33, has yet to overcome the first round at any Grand Slams.
Also playing in the WTA tour are Zheng Saisai, 20, and Wang Qiang, 22, who both linger outside the world top 100.
“We surely don’t like to see a big gap between Li Na and her successors. Even though there is no player as outstanding as she is, we are very happy if we can have 10 players stay in the top 100 in the future,” said Chinese women’s tennis coach Wang Peng.
Li Na (center) of China holds the trophy with ball boys after winning her women’s singles
final match against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia at 2014 Australian Open tennis
tournament in Melbourne, Australia, on January 25, 2014. Li Na won 2-0 to claim the
title of the event. Photo by Li Jundong
Li Na of China hits a return during the women’s singles semifinal match against
Eugenie Bouchard of Canada at 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne,
Australia, on January 23, 2014. Li Na won 2-0. Photos by Xu Yanyan
Li Na of China autographs for fans after winning the women’s singles quarterfinals
against Flavia Pennetta of Italy at 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne,
Australia, on January 21, 2014. Li Na won 2-0. Photo by Jin Linpeng
Li Na of China signs autographs for fans after winning women’s singles quarterfinal
match against Flavia Pennetta of Italy at Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne,
Australia, on January 21, 2014. Li Na won 2-0. Photo by Li Jundong
Li Na of China kisses the trophy during the awarding ceremony for women’s final in the
French Open tennis championship at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, on June 4, 2011.
Li defeated Francesca Schiavone of Italy with 2-0 in the final. Photo by Gao Jing
Li Na (left) of China, the first Asian to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open, poses
with her husband Jiang Shan during a celebration organized by the Women’s Tennis
Association (WTA) at Sanlitun SOHO in Beijing, China, on July 5, 2011. Photo by Gong Lei
Li Na of China reacts during the press conference for her Women’s Singles first round
match against Kristina Mladenovic of France on day 3 of the French Open at Roland
Garros in Paris, on May 27, 2014. Li lost 1-2. Photo by Wang Lili
Li Na’s farewell letter
By Ma Xiangfei and Wang Chunyan
China’s first and only Grand Slam winner Li Na formally announced her retirement on Friday, leaving the Chinese tennis yearning for the next superstar.
Following is her farewell and retirement letter:
For close to fifteen years, we’ve been a part of each other’s lives. As a tennis player representing China on the global stage, I’ve trekked around the world playing hundreds of matches on the WTA tour, for China’s Fed Cup team, at the National Games and at several Olympic Games. You’ve always been there for me, supporting me, cheering me on, and encouraging me to reach my potential.
Representing China on the tennis court was an extraordinary privilege and a true honour. Having the unique opportunity to effectively bring more attention to the sport of tennis in China and all over Asia is something I will cherish forever. But in sport, just like in life, all great things must come to an end.
2014 has become one of the most significant years in my career and my life. This year was full of amazing highlights, which included winning my second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open and sharing the extraordinary experience with my country, my team, my husband and my fans. It was also a year filled with difficult moments, such as having to deal with the inevitable – making the decision to end my professional tennis career.
The amazing moment in Australia was filled with joy, happiness and extraordinary sense of accomplishment. The task of finally making a decision to hang up my racquet felt a lot more difficult than winning seven matches in a row in the Australian heat. It took me several agonizing months to finally come to the decision that my chronic injuries will never again let me be the tennis player that I can be. Walking away from the sport, effective immediately, is the right decision for me and my family.
Most people in the tennis world know that my career has been marked by my troubled right knee. The black brace I wear over it when I step on the court has become my tennis birth mark. And while the brace completes my tennis look, the knee problems have at times overtaken my life.
After four knee surgeries and hundreds of shots injected into my knee weekly to alleviate swelling and pain, my body is begging me to stop the pounding. My previous three surgeries were on my right knee. My most recent knee surgery took place this July and was on my left knee. After a few weeks of post-surgery recovery, I tried to go through all the necessary steps to get back on the court. While I’ve come back from surgery in the past, this time it felt different. One of my goals was to recover as fast as I could in order to be ready for the first WTA tournament in my hometown of Wuhan. As hard as I tried to get back to being 100%, my body kept telling me that, at 32, I will not be able to compete at the top level ever again. The sport is just too competitive, too good, to not be 100%.
Winning a Grand Slam title this year and achieving a ranking of World No.2 is the way I would like to leave competitive tennis. As hard as it’s been to come to this decision, I am at peace with it. I have no regrets. I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place, remember? Not many people believed in my talent and my abilities, yet I found a way to persevere, to prove them (and sometimes myself!) wrong.
I’ve succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years ago was in its infancy in China. What I’ve accomplished for myself is beyond my wildest dreams. What I accomplished for my country is one of my most proud achievements.
In 2008, there were two professional women’s tennis tournaments in China. Today, there are 10, one of them in Wuhan, my hometown. That to me is extraordinary! Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams – with thirty Grand Slam singles titles among them – are coming to my hometown to play tennis for the fans of China! Just as I didn’t think I could ever be a Grand Slam champion, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that some of the best female athletes in the world could play tennis in Wuhan, in my backyard.
My contributions to the growth of the sport in China are very special to me. But I don’t want to stop here. Together with IMG, my management company, we are putting together various plans on how we will continue to grow the sport of tennis in China. These plans include opening the Li Na Tennis Academy, which will provide scholarships for the future generation of Chinese tennis stars. I will also stay involved in the Right to Play, an organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children overcome challenges through sport. My philanthropic work will expand in scope as I continue to dedicate myself to helping those in need. What was once just a dream in China today is a reality.
On a personal side, I look forward to starting a new chapter of my life, hopefully having a family and reconnecting with those I did not have the luxury of spending a lot of time with while playing. I can’t wait to revisit all the amazing places I played tennis in and see the world through a new set of eyes. I look forward to slowing down and living my life at a new, slower, relaxed pace.
Tennis is an individual sport and as players, our job is to spend a lot of time focusing on ourselves. But no player can ever become a champion alone and nobody knows this better than me. There isn’t enough space here to thank everyone who has travelled on my journey with me and contributed to my success. But I must thank those that have stuck with me through the highs and the lows and have helped me become the person that I am today.
Thank you to:
My mother — for your never-ending support. Through the laughs and the tears, you’ve always been there for me.
My father — you were taken away from me way too early and I haven’t been the same since. You’ve remained the sunshine in my life and I am who I am because of you.
Jiang Shan — you’ve been by my side for 20 years. You are my everything and I am grateful to have shared my life with you.
My first coaches Ms. Xia Xiyao and Ms. Yu Liqiao — for putting me on the tennis path.
Madame Sun and the Chinese Tennis Association — thank you for being trailblazers for tennis in China.
Mr. Hu Dechun and the Hubei Sports Bureau — for understanding me and supporting me through the years.
Women’s Tennis Association — for your passion for women’s tennis and hard work growing it around the world.
Mr. Chan Hongchang — for supporting me when I first decided to become a professional tennis player in 2008. You helped me make up my mind.
Thomas Hogstedt — for introducing me to professional tennis.
Michael Mortenson — for helping me win my first Grand Slam.
Carlos Rodriguez — for pushing me beyond the limits I thought I could reach.
Alex Stober — for taking care of me all of these years and pulling me together when I was falling apart.
Erich Rembeck and Johannes Wieber — for finding a way to make me pain free, over and over again.
Fred Zhang and the Nike team — you’ve been my guiding light, my support system and my biggest cheerleader. I will never forget it.
To Max Eisenbud and the entire IMG Team — for being the best management company in the world and for taking care of me every day.
To all the sponsors that have supported me through every stage of my career.
To my relatives, friends, and everyone who has helped me throughout my career – for always being there for me and for your never-ending support.
To my fellow tennis players — for being a part of my journey all of these years. I have so much respect for all of you.
To everyone in the media who’s covered my career and helped the growth of tennis in China and around the world.
To the amazing tennis fans around the world — for your unyielding support of our sport and for playing every tennis match along with me.
And lastly, to tennis fans in China — for getting on the bandwagon and staying on it! I am grateful to each and every one of you for pushing me to be my best, embracing me and loving me unconditionally. There is no limit to how far we can take the sport of tennis in China, together.
When I started playing tennis, I was just a neighbourhood kid with an afterschool hobby, not realizing what magical journey lay ahead of me. If I only knew what a vehicle the sport of tennis, along with my success, would become for my beloved China. While my journey hasn’t been easy, it has been rewarding. I’ve seen change happening in front of my eyes, young girls picking up tennis racquets, setting goals, following their hearts and believing in themselves. I hope that I’ve had the opportunity to inspire young women all over China to believe in themselves, to set their goals high and pursue them with vengeance and self-belief.
Whether you want to be a tennis player, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or a business leader, I urge you to believe in yourself and follow your dream. If I could do it, you can too! Be the bird that sticks out. With hard work, your dreams will come true.
Li Na of China reacts during the Women’s Singles first round match against Kristina
Mladenovic of France on day 3 of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris on May 27,
2014. Li lost 1-2. Photo by Wang Lili
Li Na of China reacts during the first round match of women’s singles against Simona
Halep of Romania at US Open Tennis Championships in New York, on August 30, 2011.
Li lost 0-2. Photo by Shen Hong
Li Na’s factfile
By Li Jia and Wang Chunyan
Following is the factfile on China’s top tennis player Li Na who announced retirement on Friday of September 19 :
Date of Birth: Feb. 26, 1982
Birthplace: Wuhan, China
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Turn pro – 1999
2000 – Li Na took part in the Sydney Olympic Games but failed to make the second recond.
2001 – Li won both the women’s singles and doubles as well as the mixed doubles at the Universiade in Beijing.
2002 – Li had announced retirement in 2002.
2004 – Li came back and won her first WTA title at Guangzhou in 2004 and made top 100 debut on October.
2005 – Li made top 50 debut on February. She missed Wimbledon for Chinese Natonal Championships.
2006 – Li became the first Chinese to make the quarterfinal at Gland Slam and she cracked top 20 in WTA.
2008 – Li won her second WTA title at Gold Coast in January. She finished forth at the Beijing Olympic Games.
2009 – Li made her first quarterfinal at the US Open and ranked 15th in WTA.
2010 – Li made her first Gland Slam semifinal at Australian Open. Her rank also rose to 10th.
2011 – Li became the first Asian to be a Gland Slam finalist at Australian Open and became the first Asian to win a Gland Slam title at French Open. She ranked forth at WTA.
2012 – Li failed to make the second round at the London Olympic Games.
2013 – Li made a historic top 3 in WTA rankings. She was the runner-up in WTA Championships.
2014 – Li won her second Gland Slam title at Australian Open. She ranked second in WTA in February. Li announced retirement on Friday of Seaptember 19.
Li Na’s hometown
saddened by her retirement
By Zheng Zhi and Wu Zhi
While Wuhan is hosting its first ever WTA premier-level tournament, Li Na, unquestionably the biggest reason for Chinese fans to watch it, announced retirement on Friday of September 19 due to persistent knee injuries, which put an end to Asia’s most successful tennis career.
“It’s just like the heartbeat of Chinese tennis paused for a moment,” said a local fan who showed a photo of his ticket for the Wuhan Open on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social networking site.
“I had previously thought Li Na would secure a top-three finish in this home tourney and we would all cheer for her,” said Xia Xiyao, the coach who introduced a six-year-old Li to tennis in Wuhan in 1988.
“But now I feel sorry for her and I guess the injuries must be very serious.”
Fabrice Chouquet, international consultant of the Wuhan Open, told a press conference late Friday that “the tournament is saddened by Li Na’s decision to end her playing career due to injury. We know she will remain a key part of the Wuhan Open for years to come.”
Yi Guoqing, the event director of the Wuhan Open, however, tried to play down the impact Li’s absence would have on the tournament, saying “such uncertainties do exist in international competitions” and people who love tennis would be able to see top players like Serena Williams as well.
Had it not been for Li, China’s only two-time Grand Slam-winner, sports authorities in her hometown would have never imagined hosting a top-level event, with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Eugenie Bouchard and Jelena Jankovic among the star-studded line-up.
“I’m sorry to see Li Na retire right before the Wuhan Open, but I know it must have been difficult for her to make the decision,” said Hu Dechun, chief of Hubei Provincial Sport Bureau.
“Anyway, thank Li Na for her global influence, which made the WTA tournament possible in the city and also helped Wuhan attract one of the strongest fields ever assembled at a WTA event,” he said, “and thank her for ushering a new era in Chinese tennis.”
Tennis was once considered an elite sport in China. For the relatively high costs players have to face for rackets and court fees, it is much less popular than table tennis, basketball and football. But when Li Na showed up, things started to change.
Just as Yao Ming whipped up a basketball fever, Li has continuously inspired the new generation of tennis players in her hometown as well as in the country.
“I’ve succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years ago was in its infancy in China,” Li said in her farewell letter posted on Sina Weibo. “In 2008, there were two professional women’s tennis tournaments in China. Today, there are 10, one of them in Wuhan, my hometown. That to me is extraordinary!”
Xia, who for decades has coached young kids in a local tennis school, told Xinhua that “in recent years, a lot of parents have come to me saying how much they admire Li Na and want their children to play tennis and make a fortune like Li Na.”
“But I usually told them Li Na is rare and unique,” she said.
Blog Editor: MIAO HONG
Source: XINHUA NEWS AGENCY