Chinese sports super star Li Na has admitted that she is missing tennis since her retirement last year, but hopes to stay involved in the sport and encourage more young people in China to play tennis, despite starting a family.
In an interview with Laureus at the Jing An Shangri-La' in Shanghai, Li Na, who is a Nominee for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award, reveals: “I'm still missing the fight on the court a lot, because I think tennis was with me for over 20 years. I cannot separate from it. But at least I don’t have to take injections and do operations, though I still have pain and I still have treatment for my knee.”
She says her goal remains to create a training school – the Li Na tennis academy – where she can help children to improve their tennis and create the next generation of Chinese tennis players.
“I think right now, there are so many tournaments in China that the young children have more chance to see the top players. I really wish I can have a Li Na tennis academy to help more young children. I would like to make very good space for them when they come to the court. So for sure, when I have a tennis academy, 50 per cent of my time I will stay in the tennis academy, the other 50 per cent I will be with my child.”
Will she encourage her child to play tennis? “I will see if they are interested in tennis. Of course, if they will be interested, I will support them. But I'm not going to tell them to play.”
Li Na won her second Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in 2014, and achieved a career-best ranking of world No.2. However, seven months later she was forced to retire at the age of 32, because of knee injuries. Li Na also won the 2011 French Open. She was the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam which resulted in a dramatic increase in the growth of tennis in China.
She will now discover at the Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony in Shanghai on April 15 if she has won the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award. Also nominated are fellow tennis player Serena Williams, New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams, skiers Marit Bjørgen and Tina Maze and distance runner Genzebe Dibaba.
It is the second time she has been nominated and she says: “I think the Laureus Award for all the athletes is the highest ever, so I am really happy I can be there. I think it's very good that Laureus can come to China and can show all the Chinese about the highest level of sport in the world. And also I think it will help a lot for the young people, for the children. I think this is good for sport in China and all over the world.”
Many people internationally say that the growth of tennis in China began with Li Na, but she is very modest. She says: “Tennis started to grow in 2004 in China when [Li Ting and Sun Tiantian] won the Olympic doubles gold medal. After that, I think all the people gave attention to women's tennis, and especially these last couple of years we're doing well. So people start to understand tennis. It’s not only about Li Na. A lot of athletes are doing an excellent job, and also so many people in China.”
Asked if she thinks tennis should be promoted in Chinese schools, she replied: “That would be a good idea. I think we should be working a lot for this.”
Asked how important it was to have been coached by her husband, she joked: “It's very tough to find a balance between a husband and a coach. So if you have the chance, just find another coach.”
How would she like to be remembered? “Crazy. Tough. Brave,” she says.
It has been said she is rebellious, is that true? “I think I was a little bit, because when if I was trying to reach my goal, I would never give up. So some people think I'm crazy.”