Li Na: Tennis only chance after my father’s death

WUHAN: China’s Li Na said her ground-breaking career can be traced back to the death of her father when she was 14, a pivotal moment which meant tennis success was her “only chance”.

Li, in candid comments following her shock retirement last week, said she had to grow up quickly when left to support her mother, a realisation which shaped her life.

“I think I was a pretty normal girl in the way I grew up (but) what totally changed my life was when my father passed away,” she said in an interview in Wuhan.

It sowed the seeds of a career which yielded two Grand Slam singles titles, the first for an Asian player, and brought tennis to China’s masses.The reigning Australian Open champion was speaking in her home city, days after she tearfully called it quits over persistent knee injuries.

Late in her career, it was another fatherly figure in the form of coach Carlos Rodriguez who would prove influential as he brought Li out of a slump to win the Australian Open in January.

Under the Argentinian, Justine Henin’s former mentor, Li became a different, composed more player — and less confrontational off the court. Her family had struggled financially after her father, Li Shengpeng, died of a rare cardiovascular disease when she was taking her first steps on the tennis circuit.

But with the determination that would mark her ascent to world number two, the young Li focused on the tennis court to navigate the family out of hardship.

Li chafed at authority from an early age. She has spoken of her displeasure at being forcibly switched from badminton, which her father played professionally, to tennis by China’s sports system after coaches noticed her strong arms. (Retuers)

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