Li Na

Li Na is a retired Chinese professional tennis player, renowned for her aggressive style of play and notable achievements on the global stage, particularly as the first Asian tennis player to clinch a Grand Slam singles title.

Early life

Born on February 26, 1982, in Wuhan, Hubei, China, Li Na displayed a penchant for athleticism from a young age. Her mother, Li Yanping, was a homemaker, while her father, Li Shengpeng, had been a professional badminton athlete and later assumed a sales role for a company based in Wuhan. Tragically, her father died from an unusual cardiovascular condition when Li was just 14 years old. Her coach kept the news from her for several days, fearing it would hamper her athletic performance.

Initially taking up badminton at the age of six, Li was influenced by her father’s sports career. However, by the time she was nearly eight, she was convinced by Xia Xiyao, a coach at Wuhan’s youth tennis club, to transition to tennis. Her training methods were based on negative reinforcement, which impacted her self-esteem in her later competitive years. By 1997, Li was part of China’s National Tennis Team. A year later, sponsored by Nike, she attended the John Newcombe Academy in Texas to refine her tennis skills. She stayed in Texas for about ten months before returning to China. As a child, her tennis idol was Andre Agassi. She embarked on her professional tennis career at 16.

In late 2002, Li exited the national team to enroll part-time at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Reports varied regarding her departure, ranging from opposition to her relationship with teammate and future husband, Jiang Shan, to disputes with her strict coach, Yu Liqiao. Another theory was her failing health. The New York Times suggested that Li struggled with hormone imbalances and was encouraged to play through them by taking hormonal medication. Li later conveyed to CNN that she felt ill regularly and didn’t want her existence to be solely about tennis.

Li rejoined the national team in 2004 as a gesture of gratitude for their earlier support. She married Jiang Shan on January 27, 2006, who subsequently became her personal coach. In 2008, under a reform policy termed “Fly Solo” by the media, Li left the national and state sports systems. This change granted her the autonomy to choose her own coaching staff and manage her expenses, allowing her to keep a larger share of her earnings—only 12% had to be contributed to the Chinese Tennis Association, compared to 65% previously. By the summer of 2012, this requirement was abolished, letting Li retain all of her prize money.

Li was named a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics on June 5, 2016. On January 19, 2015, she publicly announced her pregnancy, welcoming her first child, a daughter named Alisa, in June 2015. Her second child, a son, was born on December 23, 2016.

Career

Li Na embarked on her professional tennis career in 1999, quickly making her mark by securing victories in three out of her first four singles events on the ITF Circuit; she claimed two titles in Shenzhen and one in Westende, Belgium. In addition, she triumphed in the first seven ITF doubles events she participated in.

In the year 2000, Li led the ITF circuit in singles victories, racking up a total of 52 wins. She added eight more titles to her name that year, which included one at the $50k level, two at the $25k tier, and a consecutive streak of four $10k tournament triumphs during March and April.

Throughout that year, Li achieved significant wins against several noteworthy players, such as Flavia Pennetta, Emmanuelle Gagliardi, Maria Elena Camerin, Tamarine Tanasugarn, and Yayuk Basuki.

Li Na’s professional career began in 1999, but her breakthrough moment came in 2004 when she won her first WTA title in Guangzhou. This victory was more than just a personal achievement; it signified China’s emerging prowess in the realm of tennis. In 2008, Li reached the finals of a Grand Slam for the first time at the Australian Open but faced a heartbreaking defeat.

However, the pinnacle of her career arrived in 2011 when she claimed the French Open title, becoming the first player from Asia, male or female, to win a Grand Slam singles event. This victory catapulted her into global stardom, and she further solidified her legendary status in 2014 by capturing the Australian Open title.

While her career was marked by numerous injuries that led to brief hiatuses from the sport, Li Na’s resilience always brought her back to the court. She finally announced her retirement in 2014, but her influence on the sport remains indisputable.

Li Na’s journey, marked by tenacity, resilience, and groundbreaking achievements, remains an inspiration to aspiring tennis players and sports enthusiasts around the globe.

Net Worth

By the time of her retirement, Li Na was one of the highest-earning female athletes globally, not just in terms of prize money but also through endorsements. Brands such as Nike, Rolex, and Mercedes-Benz were eager to associate with her. As of 2023, her estimated net worth stands at around $50 million.

Achievement

Li Na’s list of accolades is both long and distinguished. Here are some highlights:

First Asian tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title (French Open, 2011).
Winner of the Australian Open in 2014.
Nine WTA and 19 ITF singles titles to her name.
In 2019, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, cementing her place among tennis legends.
Beyond her sporting achievements, Li Na has also been lauded for breaking barriers for Asian athletes, especially women, in the global sports domain.