Li Na, the first Chinese to win a WTA title, China’s first and so far only Top 10 singles player, the first and only Grand Slam singles champion from Asia, and so much more, announced retirement. The 32-year-old is the main reason for the growth of popularity of tennis in China, the biggest boost being her first major title at the 2011 French Open, and now she’s forced to say goodbye, due to agonizing knee injuries that needed as much as a hundreds injections a week to alleviate swelling and pain.
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.
How will the WTA do without her?
As Li stated in her official retirement letter (all the quotes here are from that letter), she will stay involved in growing the popularity of tennis in China, among other things through the Li Na Tennis Academy she plans to open and through the Right to Play, an organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children overcome challenges through sport. But still, the fact that Chinese people have lost their greatest tennis idol and inspiration is a huge loss for the WTA, especially given their strong determination and generous investments to win over the people of this populous country that was not so long ago barely interested in tennis.
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.
The WTA even established a Premier-level event in Li’s hometown of Wuhan, with the prize money of $2,440,070, which is about to take place next week for the first time, but Li will not compete. Such a shame, but still, nothing is more important than health and apparently Li’s body screamed for rest.
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.
Will some other WTA player from China manage to take the place of Li Na soon? Will the WTA’s strategy to spread the tennis seeds in China be slowed down without highly successful and marketable Li Na to support it with her breakthroughs? What are your thoughts?
After earning nine singles titles, including two Grand Slams, and a career-high ranking of No.2, our Li is moving on to enjoying family life and catching up with the things she hadn’t been able to do:
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.
I am definitely going to miss her and her lovely smile and funny speeches. As you say, it is a tough loss to WTA and for Asian tennis but the most important thing is, of course, that she’s happy. It’s going to be weird to not see her battling in the Australian heat next January because she has played so well in there these past five years especially. I remember so many great moments from her over there. I hope she finds happiness in whatever she decides to do.
Congrats on all of her well deserved success. Thanks for helping promote tennis worldwide.
Marija, methinks there is no one in Asia that will in the near future take over the mantle and win slams like Li Na did. Li was the exception of typical asian athletes, being more powerful than most. Maybe Kei Nishikori on the mens side, but he is so small. Possibly Zhang Shuai later on? Most of the asian “athletes” especially on the women’s side take up gymnastics or golf (See Korea).
Jim, not yet. Zheng Jie used to be the closest to Li Na’s success, but she’s nowhere near that success now. But they’re working hard on spreading tennis in China, plus, Li is planning to open her academy, so there may be many new hopes in the future. You see how much the WTA is investing in the Asian market. There are so many tournaments in Asia now and they are worth a lot of money. That must be worthwhile.
Looks like the next up and comer for China may be #1 junior, Xu Shilin who goes by her Americanized name “Coco”. She is 17 years old, and has trained in Florida for the past 6 years, but is moving back to China. Her English is thus really good, but her Mandarin has become a bit rusty!
Jim, thanks for this information. I’ll keep an eye on her!