After heavy rumours took over the internet over the past few weeks, many wondered if the end was near for Li Na. Now it appears that where there is smoke, there is fire, as the Chinese No. 1 officially announced her retirement from professional competition on Friday afternoon in a WTA press conference.
“Representing China on the tennis court was an extraordinary privilege and a true honour,” Li Na said in a prepared statement. “Having the unique opportunity to effectively bring more attention to the sport of tennis in China and all over Asia is something I will cherish forever. But in sport, just like in life, all great things must come to an end.”
The main concern for Li was the constant injuries and her gradually deteriorating body, which could no longer handle the grueling an extensive 11-month tennis season.
“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. My previous three surgeries were on my right knee. My most recent knee surgery took place this July and was on my left knee. After a few weeks of post-surgery recovery, I tried to go through all the necessary steps to get back on the court. While I’ve come back from surgery in the past, this time it felt different. One of my goals was to recover as fast as I could in order to be ready for the first WTA tournament in my hometown of Wuhan. As hard as I tried to get back to being 100%, 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%.”
Na won her second career Grand Slam title at the start of the year at the Australian Open, where she played arguably the best tennis of her life to lift the prestigious crown.
“2014 has become one of the most significant years in my career and my life. This year was full of amazing highlights, which included winning my second Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open and sharing the extraordinary experience with my country, my team, my husband and my fans. It was also a year filled with difficult moments, such as having to deal with the inevitable – making the decision to end my professional tennis career.
“Winning a Grand Slam title this year and achieving a ranking of World No.2 is the way I would like to leave competitive tennis. As hard as it’s been to come to this decision, I am at peace with it. I have no regrets. I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place, remember? Not many people believed in my talent and my abilities, yet I found a way to persevere, to prove them (and sometimes myself!) wrong.”
Na accomplishments stretch past her on-court achievements, as she helped bring a variety of new tennis events to her homecountry of China.
“In 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! Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams – with thirty Grand Slam singles titles among them – are coming to my hometown to play tennis for the fans of China! Just as I didn’t think I could ever be a Grand Slam champion, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that some of the best female athletes in the world could play tennis in Wuhan, in my backyard.”