Give young right to choose: Li
By Yu Yilei (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-15 08:04
China's tennis ace and former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Li Na has called on national sports administrators to give young players more "right to choose".
"Just give them the right to choose," Li told China Daily before traveling to Germany to prepare for China's Fed Cup tie and the ensuing clay-court season.
"If I had an opportunity to choose what I wanted to do in childhood, I wouldn't go for tennis. It is a sport that I was always pushed to do, first by my parents, then provincial and national sports administrators."
Li, together with Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, Zheng's Grand Slam doubles title winning partner Yan Zi and Peng Shuai, became the only four Chinese tennis players to leave the state-supported system at the end of last year.
The quartet all appreciated the privilege to become self-managed athletes still under the national flag.
Since then, Li and Zheng have enjoyed a shining success.
The 27-year-old Li, coming back from a knee injury, lifted herself from outside the top 50 to currently sit at 31 in the world rankings, while Zheng, 26, has just equaled Li's record as the highest ranked Chinese player, coming in 16 in the newly-released Sony Ecrisson WTA Tour standings.
Peng also shot up the rankings to 35, only four spots lower than her personal best in August 2005.
Yan is the only one of the four who has failed to improve.
In a stark contrast, she has hit a new low, dropping out of the top 200.
The outspoken Li spoke frankly about her preference for going solo, a rare occurrence for Chinese athletes, although she admitted facing more "life pressure than before", having to pay all expenses formerly picked up by the State.
"I love what it is right now. In the past, national or the provincial sports administrators arranged everything for you and you have no options but to follow their arrangements," said the Wuhan native.
The traditional sports training system in China, often overbearing and rigid, has helped the nation achieve many sporting miracles, such as most gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last August, but effectively held back several highly professional sports, tennis and basketball among them.
Apart from the above quartet, the rest of China's tennis camp still competes in obscurity. In the current rankings, only two Chinese finished within the top 200 and three within the top 300. Reigning Chinese champion Liang Chen ranked even lower, at 349.
"It is very important for us to have the right to choose," Li said. "I really mean it.
Jiang Shan, Li's husband, coach and also a member of the national men's team, echoed Li's view.
"It's nice for them to have other options rather than walking one way till the end," Jiang said.
Li will play for China in the Fed Cup world group playoff against Germany on April 25 and 26 after her knee is examined by her German doctors and athletic trainers.
The lingering injury has become a nightmare, sidelining her for a couple of months ahead of the all-important Olympics and then again two months earlier this year.
"All you need is a healthy body," Li said. "Only if I am 100 percent healthy can I fully concentrate on my game."
Li now sees her doctor every 10 days while competing regularly on tour.
When unable to meet medical specialists, she seeks their advice by mobile text messages.
"I haven't seen my doctor for six weeks and I am a little bit concerned with my knee," she said, after finishing the hard-court season in the first half of the year.
Li has always been viewed as a potential big winner on tour after previously defeating Serena and Venus Williams.
But the injury-plagued player says she is unclear about how far she can go.
"I haven't played a complete season for the past three seasons," she said. I dare not dream due to the injury."
(China Daily 04/15/2009 page23)