Li Na is a breath of fresh air, don’t you think? She is a fantastic bonus for women’s tennis. She is opening doors and what she will do for the sport in the world’s most populous nation is anyone’s guess as the sky’s...
Li Na is a breath of fresh air, don’t you think? She is a fantastic bonus for women’s tennis. She is opening doors and what she will do for the sport in the world’s most populous nation is anyone’s guess as the sky’s the limit. Her victory in the women’s final at Roland Garros is one of the best stories women’s tennis has had to offer in recent years and I really hope the tour takes care of her and does not take advantage of her because of where she is from in an effort to develop their own brand. I travel to China quite a bit and following Li Na’s appearance in the final of the Australian Open I could see a marked rise in the popularity of the sport. Tennis has always been a sport that has enjoyed popularity in China because the people in the highest levels of government play tennis. They see it as a family sport and one that can envelope everyone. I had a phone call from a good friend just before the final started between Li and Francesca Schiavone. Tracey Holmes, who works in television, told me that the place was going crazy for Li. Now that she has won the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen the place has gone nuts. French champagne was popped and I was getting reports that fireworks were being let off in the night sky in celebration of the victory. At least 500 million people in China alone watched the match. This is the nation the world is courting and the sport can’t buy that sort of publicity and attention. Don’t you think Li Na is a trailblazer? It was just so appropriate that the great Australian Evonne Goolagong presented the trophies because 40 years ago when she won the title she too was a trailblazer even though she didn’t realise it at the time. Li has achieved so many firsts and created so many historical points in singles. First from China in a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 2006, first to break the top 10, first from Asia to reach a Slam final, first from Asia to win a Slam and first from China to be ranked in the top four. It’s what dreams are made of and that’s how she described it all. Her husband Jiang Shan was there to greet her personally in the player’s lounge when she came off court  with the rest of their team along with Michael Mortensen of Denmark who has been instrumental in turning things around for her with his coaching. They were brought together by my friend and Li’s trainer/masseur Alex Stober. Mortensen a burly Dane who used to play, was beaming and he said: “I am so proud of you.” Her husband embraced her briefly in congratulations and they both smiled. She received the congratulations of everyone else and as she turned to go to the locker room to get ready to face the world’s press, Shan called out: “Na, Na.” She turned and his two hands were stretched out. He cradled her face in his hands in a very touching moment and right at that moment a tear of joy trickled down her cheek. It was a moment that encapsulated everything.