this Jan. 25, 2014, file photo, Li Na, of China,
celebrates after winning the first set over Dominika
Cibulkova, of Slovakia, during ther women's singles
final at the Australian Open tennis championship in
Melbourne, Australia. Li formally announced her
retirement on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014.
— Relying on fitness and a strong baseline game, Li Na
reached the pinnacle of tennis and lifted the level of the
sport in Asia to unprecedented heights.
of humor along the way certainly helped.
that carried Li to two Grand Slam titles ultimately
couldn't get her through another season, with the
32-year-old Chinese tennis star citing recurring knee
injuries as the reason she needed to quit when she
announced her retirement in an open letter posted to
social networks on Friday.
weeks of speculation and hype on the Chinese social
networking sites about Li's career coming to an end.
which governs women's tennis, has described Li as a
trailblazer after becoming the first player from Asia to
win a major title — the 2011 French Open, beating four
top 10 players in succession to wrap up the title — a
few months after becoming the first from the region to
reach a Grand Slam final, at the 2011 Australian Open.
third trip to the final at Melbourne Park, Li won the
Australian Open title in January to reach a career-high
No. 2 ranking, another continental milestone.
a Grand Slam title this year and achieving a ranking of
World No. 2 is the way I would like to leave competitive
tennis," she said in a letter that thanked fans,
supporters, sponsors and fellow players. "As hard as
it's been to come to this decision, I am at peace with it.
I have no regrets.
succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years
ago was in its infancy in China."
hasn't played since a third-round loss at Wimbledon, will
face a news conference on Sunday in Beijing. Until then,
her open letter laid out her reasons for a seemingly
people in the tennis world know that my career has been
marked by my troubled right knee," Li said.
"After four knee surgeries and hundreds of shots
injected into my knee weekly to alleviate swelling and
pain, my body is begging me to stop the pounding."
three operations on her right knee, dating back to March
2008, Li said her most recent surgery in July was on her
a few weeks of post-surgery recovery, I tried to go
through all the necessary steps to get back on the
court," she said. "While I've come back from
surgery in the past, this time it felt different.
of my goals was to recover as fast as I could in order to
be ready for the first WTA tournament in my hometown. As
hard as I tried to get back to being 100 percent, my body
kept telling me that, at 32, I will not be able to compete
at the top level ever again. The sport is just too
competitive, too good, to not be 100 percent."
started out as a badminton player, adept at the national
sport, but was identified as a tennis prospect at age 9.
She later entered the national system.
of individuality meant she bucked the system at times
during her career — giving up tennis for two years to do
media studies at a university earlier in her career —
and later insisting on selecting her own coaching staff.
She also has won support from the public for her courage
to defy China's rigid state-run sports system aimed at
training world-class athletes.
announcement that she had parted ways with coach Carlos
Rodriguez, ending an almost two-year working relationship
with the former long-time mentor for Justin Henin,
followed her Wimbledon defeat in July.
millions of admirers with her tough-as-nails approach on
court, and her warmth and charm outside the arena. Her
frequent jokes about life with Jiang Shan, her former
coach and husband since 2006, in courtside interviews
helped Li become an instant hit at the Australian Open.
other milestones, Li was the first Chinese player to win a
WTA tour title (Guangzhou in 2004), the first to reach a
Grand Slam singles quarterfinal (Wimbledon in 2006), and
the first to break into the top 20.
I've accomplished for myself is beyond my wildest
dreams," Li said. "What I accomplished for my
country is one of my most proud achievements."
has made great inroads in China during Li's era, to the
point where Wuhan is hosting a new tournament next week
and millions more people have taken up the sport.
2008, there were two professional women's tennis
tournaments in China. Today, there are 10, one of them in
Wuhan, my hometown. That to me is extraordinary!" Li
said. "Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Venus
Williams — with 30 Grand Slam singles titles among them
— are coming to my hometown to play tennis for the fans
to No. 2 in the rankings after her win in Australia in
January, but dropped to No. 6 this month due to her
immediate future is the establishment of a Li Na Tennis
Academy. In the not-too-distant future, she's hoping to
start a family.
philanthropic work will expand in scope as I continue to
dedicate myself to helping those in need. What was once
just a dream in China today is a reality," she said.
"On a personal side, I look forward to starting a new
chapter of my life, hopefully having a family and
reconnecting with those I did not have the luxury of
spending a lot of time with while playing."
statement celebrating her 15-year professional career, WTA
chief executive Stacey Allaster said Li "has been a
fun, powerful, and wonderful player on the WTA tour and,
along with her fans, I am sad to hear that she has
addition to her amazing tennis abilities and her warm and
humorous personality, she is a pioneer who opened doors to
tennis for hundreds of millions of people throughout China
and Asia. Her legacy is immense and I have no doubt that
her contributions to the WTA will be seen for decades to
come," Allaster said. "It's hard to be a
household name in a nation with 1.4 billion people, but
that's what Li Na is."