BEIJING – Li Na is doing her best to keep a low profile in China, despite returning home to a hero’s welcome after securing the country’s first Grand Slam title at the French Open.
“Since I have returned, I have tried my best to not go out if I can help it and just stay at home,” Li told reporters on Tuesday. “Perhaps everyone’s recognition of me is greater and their expectations will be higher, but to me I don’t want to change the life I have been leading.”
Li was speaking at a celebration organized by the women’s tennis association in China. But other than that event, and a prize ceremony in her home province of Hubei, she has turned down all requests because she wants to rest.
The already popular 29-year-old became more of a star in China when she beat defending champion Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final last month. She was also the runner-up at the Australian Open this year, but lost in the second round of Wimbledon to Sabine Lisicki of Germany.
On Tuesday, dozens of fans milled around a stage set up in an open-air plaza in a downtown Beijing shopping mall, decorated with banners proclaiming “Congratulations, Sister Na!”
“I think Li Na is awesome! As a fellow Chinese citizen, I feel so proud of what she’s achieved,” said 12-year-old elementary school student Dong Meng, who waved a Chinese flag and a flag with a picture of Li on it. Dong said she played tennis in school and Li’s victory was an inspiration to her.
“I hope that she will keep working hard and winning. I want to play great tennis like her too,” she said.
On Monday, Li was presented an award and a cash prize of 600,000 yuan ($94,000) by her hometown Hubei province for her win in Paris, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
“Li Na has earned China and Hubei province great honor by winning the French Open women’s singles title, so the provincial government decided to name her the Hubei Pioneer of Breakthrough,” the government said in a statement.
Li’s win over Schiavone was watched by 116 million people at home, making it the most-watched sporting event in China this year and the most-watched tennis match ever in the country.
Li is already one of the biggest sports stars in China, on a level with basketball player Yao Ming, and the WTA hopes her success could have a wide-reaching impact on the game globally.
Her success wasn’t a bolt from the blue. China invested heavily in tennis, like other sports, before it hosted the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and it was rewarded with a bronze medal in the women’s doubles for Zheng Jie and Yan Zi.
Source: China Daily