October 31st, 2014
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With the WTA focussing a lot of their efforts on growing tennis in the East, Li Na winning the second Slam of her career was like gold dust, but for watching fans, it was another chance to see why this talented player is a fan favourite.
Her post-match on-court interviews are fast becoming the stuff of legend, as she frankly discusses anything and everything, with a smile.
This year, after she claimed her first Australian Open title, she started by thanking her agents with the words “You make me rich” and told her husband “you are so lucky, you found me!”
But while the west love her, back home she has perhaps a slightly less easy relationship with the media. Part of the reason may be down to the fact that she left the Chinese national sport program run by the state to hire her own coaches, and more importantly to have more control over her winnings.
Na is one of the wealthiest women in tennis, worth an estimated $40m after her Slam win and when she first reached a career high, she made Asian tennis history for the second time, as the highest ranked female player. She was the first to win a Grand Slam singles title when she won the French Open in 2011.
In fact – she was never supposed to be a tennis player, originally favouring badminton, until her parents switched her to tennis at the age of nine. With the WTA looking to crack the Chinese market, they’ll be relieved she stuck with it.
There is no denying that she has increased the popularity of the sport in China, despite being seen as a rebel, marrying while still competing and sporting a tattoo – all of which adds to her rebellious tag.
But not all things are rosy for the new World No. 3 – after being handed a bonus from her home town, local government officials came in for criticism for not using the money elsewhere. In fact when Li won Roland Garros, she was presented with a cheque which she donated to a nursing home in her home town.
More tournaments are moving to Asia, and on the women’s side the year-end championships will spend it’s next five years there.
Li is the face of tennis in the East, and deservedly so, and the sport needs a character like Li. Long may her star rise.