China’s queen of the court

By admin
29 June 2011

Before she stepped onto the centre court of Roland Garros in Paris her husband pulled her aside.

“Don’t think too much about what it will be like after you’ve won or lost,” he told her. “It’s just one match. Go out there and show the whole world you can play good tennis.”

And that, as the world now knows, is exactly what she did.

Less than two hours after her husband’s encouraging words Li Na dropped her racket and collapsed onto the red clay, savouring a taste that would become sweeter as victory sank in.

The 29-year-old Chinese national had become Asia’s first Grand Slam winner. She left the French Open with a great big silver cup, prize money of 1,2 million euros (about R12 million) and the pride of millions of her countrymen being directed her way.

No one was more delighted than Jiang Shan who over the years has watched his wife amass a fistful of firsts for China: winner of her country’s first professional women’s singles title in 2004; its first Grand Slam quarterfinalist in 2006; first Chinese player in the top 10 after reaching the finals of the Australian Open in January.

And now the cherry on top: a Grand Slam title and a world ranking of 4 – the first Asian to hold such a lofty position since Japan’s Kimiko Date Krumm got there in 1995.

Now it’s next stop Wimbledon – and at the rate she’s going she could add a second Grand Slam win to her list of achievements.

Clay isn’t Li’s favourite surface; she prefers the grass of Wimbledon, although you’d never have said so on that sultry day in Paris when she hit Italy’s Francesca Schiavone out of the park.

It was a remarkable return to form for Li who’d hit a slump after the Aussie Open and decided it was time to do something drastic. So she sacked her coach – which isn’t all that easy when he’s also your husband.

But that doesn’t mean she and Jiang have problems. “Fat or skinny, handsome or ugly, I will always love him,” she says.

Li pulled out of China’s national team from 2002 to 2006 because she’d become “disillusioned with the way the government tried to dictate the terms of her career”, an insider says. “And they wanted a far greater cut of her winnings than she was willing to give them.”

Now sponsors are falling over themselves to snap up China’s most successful tennis player of all time.

After the Australian Open she signed a deal with ice-cream brand Häagen-Dazs that “will see her earning six figures annually for several years”, Sports Business Journal reported.

Luxury watch brand Rolex also has her on its books – and this is in addition to Nike, her long-time sponsor.

See the full article in YOU dated 16 June 2011.

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