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“Big Sister Na,” Li Na, China’s Strong, Unbending, and Unyielding Role Model by Achelle Vinzons
Ping pong may be China’s favorite and national sport, but the Chinese are certainly lobbying hard to make their mark in the very competitive world of tennis, thanks to the 2014 Australian Open victor, Li Na.   There are even predictions that Li Na may also strip Sharapova of her title of World’s Richest Female Athlete, which the latter has held since 2005; and even Li Na’s agent, Max Eisenbud (who also happens to be Sharapova’s agent), says this prediction is not that far-fetched.  In fact, Eisenbud’s words during his CNN interview after Li Na’s win were, “She could,” because according to him, Li Na is now in “the same stratosphere” as Sharapova.  (Source)

Li’s lighthearted and honest personality combined with her impressive success in tennis have not just won her the hearts of the Chinese and Asians alike; they have also won her the admiration of people the world over.  International brands have certainly taken notice!  Among the big, international brands that are already sponsoring Li are Nike, Babolat (her racquet sponsor), Mercedes Benz, Rolex, SpiderTech, Samsung, and Haagen-Dazs.  So becoming the world’s richest female athlete may not be as hard to attain as the Australian Open trophy; especially when you consider that many brands from her beloved country, the world’s second largest economy, will be clamoring to sponsor China’s new darling superstar athlete!
Li Na dazzles the world with her Aussie Open victory speech.
In the 2011 French Open, Li became the first and only Asian player to bag a grand slam singles crown.  China and Asia are truly proud to call her their own. But after her 2011 French Open victory, Li seriously considered retiring.  Her game and marriage suffered from conflicts she had with her former coach, Jiang Shan, who is also her husband.  She also got distracted by all the attention she received from sponsors, and disheartened by the criticisms thrown at her by the Chinese media when her game took a downturn in 2012. 

And then she decided to hire seven-time grand slam champion Justine Henin’s former coach, Carlos Rodriguez. It was Rodriguez who pushed her to keep playing, who believed in her and told her to believe in herself when she decided in 2013 that she wanted to be in the top three, and early this year when she said that she wanted another grand slam win. 

In her interview with the South China Morning Post, which was published online on January 26, Li said of her coach, “Every day he would say, 'Believe in yourself, believe in yourself'. But if I was really doing something wrong, he would say. 'This is wrong, you have to change'.  But the most important thing is, working with him for one-and-a-half, two years, he didn't tell me what to do. He would say, 'You have to play yourself. You have to know yourself what you should do."(Source) According to Li, Rodriguez was also instrumental in saving her marriage.

Her agent, Eisenbud, also pointed out that Li’s win was not about the money; it was about proving herself.  In the aforementioned CNN interview, Eisenbud said that Li’s win is a “big statement,” and that while “a lot of girls have won a grand slam,” a second win “puts you in a different category.”    

He added that Li’s win is “more about legacy” than it is about wealth and the endorsements she will get.  “One of the things we're really looking to do is to solidify her desire to have a tennis academy in China. So that'll be a really big focus, having some sort of partnership with a property company there." (Source)

Achieving this level of tennis success at her age, and her wit and humor, have made her a remarkable and very endearing role model for all Chinese and Asian women.  On Chinese social media, where movie stars have the biggest following, Li’s following is 20 million strong!  The number may be smaller compared to the higher following of Chinese movie and TV celebrities, but it will only get bigger exponentially now that she has also become a national hero!  And because she is not just a top athlete in her country, but a top FEMALE athlete, she represents all women of China “in a very good way,” as Eisenbud also said in his CNN interview. 

With her win at the Australian Open, and with her name being mentioned not only in the same articles and reports but in the same sentence as Sharapova and the Williams sisters, Li Na has definitely and finally caught the world’s attention. 

Li Na has also become famous for her sass during interviews and, most recently, her hilarious speech after winning the Australian Open.  During her Australian Open victory speech, she thanked her coach, Rodriguez, saying, “"Max, agent, make me rich, thanks a lot."

As for her husband, Li had this to say: "Now, of course, my husband, you're famous in China. Thanks (to) him with everything, travelling with me as my hitting partner. (He) fixes my drink, fixes my raquet...”

"So thanks a lot, you're a nice guy ..."

"Also, you're so lucky to find me." (Source)

“Li Na's brilliant winner's speech - 2014 Australian Open” on YouTube has reached close to a million views.  On Twitter, the hashtag “#funniestspeechever” continue to be one of the top trending tweets, and delighted netizens, as well as sports personalities, all over the world agree that Li gave “the best speech ever.”  One tweet, from Beyond The Baseline, read: 

“Sorry Meryl. No one does a speech like Li Na. Thanking team: "Max, agent, make me rich." Husband: "You a nice guy…You're lucky u found me." 

Before her career-changing triumph during the 2011 French Open, Li achieved an earlier milestone at the 2011 Australian Open when she became the first Asian athlete to participate in a Grand Slam singles final.  As of January 2014, she has nine Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and 19 International Tennis Federation (ITF) singles titles under her belt.  Based on her career-high singles ranking, she is number three worldwide and number one in China. 

Li, who is turning 32 this February 26, hails from Wuhan, Hubei in China.  Li’s first sport was badminton, which she started to play when she was six; Li Shengpeng, her father, was a professional badminton player.  Less than two years later, Wuhan youth tennis club coach, Xia Xiyao, convinced Li and her parents that Li should switch to tennis.  

In 1997, Li joined China’s National Tennis Team; in 1996, she was sponsored by Nike to study tennis at John Newcombe Academy in Texas.  By the time she turned 16, Li was already a professional tennis player. 

Between 2002 and 2009, Li’s tennis career was temporarily put on the backburner when she decided to attend Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), taking up and finishing a bachelor’s degree in journalism.  She rejoined the national team in 2004 and, two years later, married Jiang Shan, whom she met when they both played for the Wuhan provincial team.  In 2008, Li decided to “fly alone” (which is how the Chinese media described it at the time) and quit the national team and the states-run sports system.  This meant that only eight to 12 percent of her winnings, instead of 65 percent, would go to the Chinese Tennis Association; she could freely pick her own coaching staff; and she would be responsible for all training, coaching, and travel costs. 
Li’s success as an athlete, and a female one at that, has been unprecedented in China.  And so is her rise to international fame.  Adding to her list of qualities that may be considered “rebellious” and “very untraditional for a Chinese woman,” but which can also be found courageous and admirable by many Chinese women, are her two tattoos: a rose and a heart above her left breast, and a butterfly on her lower back.  According to Li, the tattoo of the rose and heart is a representation of her love for her husband. 

Her list of accolades also include: being one of four athletes included in Time’s 2013 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World; landing the 87th spot on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list in 2012, being one of the only two female athletes (alongside Sharapova) to be included in the said list; and being ranked No. 5 in Forbes China Celebrity 100 list, also in 2012.

Former tennis champion, Chris Evert, had this to say about Li Na, “Tennis has exploded in China. The country now has some 15 million tennis players; 116 million watched Li win the French Open. That kind of exposure is crucial to our sport, and it never would have happened without Li. At tournaments, I've seen her charm the crowds. When she smiles, everyone melts. She's just such a breath of fresh air. Her friendly on-court demeanour as well as her hilariously-witty post-match interviews brings a smile to everyone's face." (Source)

For another place to see a video of Li Na's speech and more on the subject check out the Sports Illustrated story...

From: Original         Author: Achelle Vinzons         Time: 2/3/2014 1:43:50 PM

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#2014-02-05 22:38:00 by Barry1 @Barry1
Reply @achelle

Thanks for this interesting bio of Li Na, Achelle.

She always seems to have a refreshing vitality and innocence about herself, every time she opens her mouth, another quotable quote pops out.

"The Sydney Morning Herald" here reported that Li Na wants eventually to be a housewife and to have "at least two" children. Will she be a good mother? "I try to be!"

She says she's a tennis player less dulled by age than enriched by experience,similar to Serena Williams, who's five months older. When will she quit? "I will continue until maybe one day I say, 'Oh, my body couldn't handle it more'.''

It'll be interesting to see Serena and Li Na go head to head as no doubt they will later this year. When Williams was asked about her performance in the Australian Open, she remarked, "Sometimes it's good when I lose because it takes my head out of the clouds. Not that they are ever there, so to speak. I just work as if I'm ranked 1000."

So even as I write this, I bet Serena is determinably training and working doubly hard, to take the spotlight off her Chinese foe at their next meeting.

Li Na's reported as saying the Australian Open is her favourite major, being in the Asia Pacific neighbourhood and, more importantly, Melbourne has ''the best Chinatown, so if we want to eat something we know exactly where to find the food''.

I don't think our Chinese friends can access it, but for those who can, there's a terrific Li Na official Facebook page with huge numbers of great photos of her at

Well done, Li Na. You've made us all here very proud indeed.

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