At the age of 8, when Li Na gave up badminton for tennis little did she realize that she would be the first woman to win a Grand Slam coming from the whole of the Asian sub-continent. On October 6th, she made history by becoming the first Chinese to qualify for the WTA Championships adding another feather to her cap. The year 2011 has been her best by-far after finishing as runner up at the Australian Open and winning the French Open championship after beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone. After that came a series of losses which has taken the limelight off her remarkable year.
Li Na first made her presence felt in 2004 when she came up with a great performance against the then US Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova holding match points against her. Coming from a tough 25 months where she had issues with the National team administrators and coaches, she broke into the top 100 of the WTA rankings for the very first time. In 2006, she brought up her first win against a top ranked player as she defeated Patty Schnyder and saw her career best ranking of #39. She again came up against Svetlana Kuznetsova in that year’s US Open where she defeated the 10th seed to become the first Chinese ever to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final which pushed her ranking further up to #20.
Li’s career has been plagued by injuries and other issues which prevented her from being on the tour for long periods. She suffered a 2 year hiatus with issues with the Chinese administrators followed by an ankle injury in 2005 and lost the second half of 2007 due to a rib injury added to a knee injury in 2008. Making the fourth round at the Australian Open 2007, she succeeded in achieving the feat of reaching the 4th round or more in 3 consecutive slams. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics she defeated favorite, Venus Williams in the quarterfinals and sister Serena Williams in the Porsche grand prix becoming only the second Chinese to beat a World No 1 player. Na then created a reputation for herself by beating top ranked players and losing to lower ranked ones. At the 2010 US Open she started off as 8th seed only to suffer an upset defeat.
2011 – the year which took her to great heights was here and she started off by winning the season opener in Sydney with a win over World No.3 Kim Clijsters 7-6 6-3. Then came the Australian Open where she was in top form beating 8th seed Victoria Azarenka and next, World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki to reach her first Grand Slam final where she fought hard despite going down to Kim Clijsters. Seeded 6th in the French Open, she defeated Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova enroute to the finals beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone to become the first ever Asian to achieve this glory. She rose in popularity among the Chinese and garnered a viewership of 100 million people to watch her final. After this was a spate of disappointments with Li going down in the recent China Open causing her to admit that she was physically and mentally tired. The grand year for her wasn’t over yet as she qualified for the WTA Championships following the losses of Vera Zvonareva and Samantha Stosur. Li Na has become a role model for many a Chinese kid to take up tennis and make China proud, a good show in the season ender in Istanbul would only help her cause!