Li Na matures for greater success
Updated: 2007-02-07 16:24
Li Na has been described temperamental and even been accused of having a weak mentality.
But the 24-year-old from Wuhan has gone through the criticism and has proved her talent as she raced up the rankings from 277 in 2002 to sit at a career high 16 ahead of last month's Australian Open.
China's Li Na eyes the ball during her match against Switzerland's Martina Hingis at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 22, 2007. [Reuters]
At last year's Wimbledon Li became the first Chinese player to reach the quarter-finals of a grand slam singles before losing to Belgian Kim Clijsters.
"I won't forgive myself if I get eliminated in the first round at the Grand Slams," Li said after pushing Martina Hingis to three sets in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
A former badminton player, Li made her debut in international tennis competitions in 1999 and rose to China's No. 1 soon after claiming four ITF titles. But she put an abrupt end to her promising career in 2002 and entered the Science and Technology University of Central China.
Li returned to competitive tennis at the beginning of 2004 and soon regained her status as the country's top player by winning three ITF races in a row and claiming China's first WTA title in Guangzhou.
"For sure, Li is one of the most talented players in China but her weak mentality hampers her improvement," National Tennis Management Center director Sun Jinfang told reporters last month.
Li, who is notorious for hot temper, said she is getting more mature.
"I used to blame others for losing but now I am learning to look for faults with myself," she said.
Li is the leading light of China's emergence as a tennis nation, with many tipping the country to rival what Russia has achieved (five women players in the top 10) in the coming few years.
"I hope more young players will come up," said Li. "Only when China has a lot of good players can we be considered a strength."
China has been aggressively pushing tennis since Sun Tiantian and Li Ting won a surprise women's doubles gold at the 2004 Olympics.
From having virtually no players capable of challenging the world's best just a few years ago, more than 50 Chinese women players are now listed by the WTA, the women game's governing body.
Two-thirds of them are floundering outside the top 500 but few are betting against at least some of them following in Li's footsteps.
Sun Tiantian, Peng Shuai and Yuan Meng are also pushing for singles recognition, while China also has Grand Slam doubles champions in Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, who won the Australian Open and Wimbledon Open last year -- the country's first-ever Grand Slam titles.