For tennis enthusiasts, the biggest news on Friday was not about any upset results in a tournament, nor did it concern an exemplary victory of known champions of the game. The most absorbing piece of tennis news, however, was Chinese tennis star Li Na announcing her retirement from the game. The Chinese has had recurring knee injuries of late and just as locals and her fans waited for her at the upcoming WTA event at her hometown Wuhan, Li Na used the social media sites on Friday to tell the world that she has had enough of tennis. The first reaction came from WTA, which depicted the 32-year old Li Na as a trailblazing Asian, who became an example to emulate for the budding youngsters in China and Asia. Li Na was the first Asian ever to win a Grand Slam tournament. She exhibited unbending tenacity at the French Open in 2011, where she beat four top-10 players, one after another and finally held the crown at Roland Garros. Earlier that year, Li Na was a finalist at the Australian Open as well. The Chinese developed her own brand of play in which she became popular with her opponents. Her second Grand Slam title came early in 2014, when she won the Australian Open on her third visit to the final in the year’s first Major tournament.
Since her third-round exit at Wimbledon 2014, Li Na has not played in any tournament. She pulled out of the US open as her knee troubled her again. Li Na was aware that people sympathized with her injury issues and she remarked in an open letter that she posted online. She wrote that after four knee surgeries and hundreds of pain-killing injections, she had not been able to get rid of the nagging problem. She further stated that her body was making a demand on her to stop now. She said that she had successfully made the comebacks in the past but as things stood now, it was best to bid adieu to the great game of tennis. Li Na regretted in her letter that she would not be able to participate in the first WTA tournament in her hometown. She went on to add that modern tennis had become so competitive that it was useless to play until someone was 100 percent fit.
Though Li Na’s initial tennis training began under the Chinese national system, her sense of individuality came in the way of continuing with the rigid state-run methods. On one occasion, she gave up tennis for two years and began pursuing media studies at a university. When she came back to tennis once again, Li Na insisted on selecting her own coach. She drew public support for her courage in defying the Chinese system that followed restrictive practices in training world-class athletes. After her defeat in Wimbledon this year, Li Na parted ways with her coach Carlos Rodriguez and didn’t play in any other competitive tournaments.
Li Na was able to generate world-wide fan following and her admirers immensely liked her tough combative approach against her opponents on court that was vastly different from her charming behavior outside the playing arena. As she progressed in the game, she first won a WTA tour title in Guangzhou in 2004 and broke into the top 20 in women’s ranking with a quarterfinal entry in Wimbledon 2006. Until then, no Chinese woman had ever reached that far. She became a global player at a time, when tennis was still in its infancy in China. Li Na regards such accomplishments as the most proud achievements for her country.
Li Na follows many women tennis stars, who quit the game at different ages of their careers. The most surprising announcement had once come from Switzerland’s Martina Hingis, who hung her racket when she was just 22 years old. However, Hingis staged a comeback to stun the tennis fraternity and then again in 2007, she quit the game for the second time testing positive for cocaine. Another world No.1, Justine Henin of Belgium quit the game at the height of her career in 2008, when people expected her to defend the French Open crown, she won in 2007. Last year, coming out of hibernation, Marion Bartoli emerged as an unexpected Wimbledon champion and equally unexpectedly she announced her retirement , a few days later.
Li Na plans to establish her own tennis academy in China. She says that the Li Na Tennis Academy will provide scholarships for future Chinese players. Among other things in her immediate itinerary is starting a family now that she is free from round-the-year hectic travel.
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