Congratulations to China’s Li Na, on becoming the first player from an Asian nation to win a grand-slam title. By winning the French Open on Saturday, Li who has earned 5 WTA and 19 ITF singles titles moved to No. 4 in the world rankings.
It’s easy to underestimate her achievement; she has had to break a lot of new ground to go from novelty Chinese tennis player to Grand Slam winner. Li Na started playing tennis a virtually unknown sport in China at the age of 9. Growing up in China’s highly centralized and rigid sports program, similar to the former Soviet Union’s, she would have had to endure strict management and would have had to have made immense sacrifices.
Her father, who was an amateur badminton player, wanted her to pursue this sport. He passed away from cardiovascular disease when Li was 14, and it was her coach who introduced her to tennis. Li She joined China’s National Tennis Team in 1997 and graduated to the ITF circuit. By age of 20 she was in the Top 200 in the world.
She left the national tennis team to study and she completed her bachelor degree in journalism eventually in 2009. She did however return to the national team in 2004.
In late 2008, Li quit China’s tennis program becoming a free player and started her own team. This meant that she was able to choose her own coach, and she only had to pay 8-12% of her winnings to the government compared with 65% she had paid in the past.
She is now responsible for her own financial security, paying for her coach, traveling and everything on her own. Many in China believe this was a very daring move for someone who has always been looked after by the Chinese sports system, but it is a move that has paid dividends with an appearance in the Australian Open Final in 2011 and victory in the 2011 French Open.
One can’t help feeling there is still plenty more to come from this young lady.