On Serena Williams: ‘I thought, I don’t have to fight against her anymore, but now it’s one more time – for a Laureus Award’
On being nominated as Sportswoman of the Year: ‘The Laureus Award for all the athletes is the highest ever, so I am really happy’
On China: ‘I want to set up a Li Na tennis academy to help more children’
On how she would like to be remembered: ‘Crazy. Tough. Brave’
For retired Chinese tennis super star Li Na, there is no escaping world No.1 Serena Williams. Li Na beat Serena just once in her career, but now finds she is a rival Nominee for the 2015 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award.
In an exclusive interview with Laureus.com, Li Na says: “I thought, when I was retired, I don’t have to fight against her anymore, but now it’s one more time. But I have to say, she’s an amazing player. I played against her many times and only beat her once. I wish that number could be higher.”
Li Na will discover at the Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony in Shanghai on April 15 if she has beaten Serena Williams in this particular contest. Also nominated are Valerie Adams, the New Zealand shot putter, skiers Marit Bjørgen and Tina Maze and distance runner Genzebe Dibaba.
Li Na regards Serena as one of the greatest players in the history of women’s tennis and thinks, with 19 career Grand Slam victories, she has a chance to catch Steffi Graf, who has 22, and Margaret Court, who has 24.
“I think she has a big chance to be the best one. I think there you have three excellent athletes. It’s totally different times. I think this year she’s already 33. I think before, people think sport is a pretty short life. But now you can see she’s on the Tour many years and that a tennis professional player can stay much longer.”
Li Na won her second Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in 2014, and achieved a career-best ranking of world No.2. However, seven months later she was forced to retire at the age of 32, because of knee injuries. Li Na also won the 2011 French Open. She was the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam which resulted in a dramatic increase in the growth of tennis in China.
She says: “Tennis started to grow in 2004 in China when [Li Ting and Sun Tiantian] won the Olympic doubles gold medal. After that, I think all the people gave attention to women’s tennis, and especially these last couple of years we’re doing well. So people start to understand tennis.
“I think right now, there are so many tournaments in China that the young children have more chance to see the top players. I really wish I can have a Li Na tennis academy to help more young children. I would like to make very good space for them when they come to the court. So for sure, when I have a tennis academy, 50 per cent of my time I will stay in the tennis academy, the other 50 per cent I will be with my child.”
Will she encourage her child to play tennis? “I will see if they are interested in tennis. Of course, if they will be interested, I will support them. But I’m not going to tell them to play.”
Li Na has been nominated for a Laureus Award for the second time. She says: “I think the Laureus Award for all the athletes is the highest ever, so I am really happy I can be there. I think it’s very good that Laureus can come to China and can show all the Chinese about the highest level of sport in the world. And also I think it will help a lot for the young people, for the children. I think this is good for sport in China and all over the world.”
In the interview, Li Na reveals: “I’m still missing the fight on the court a lot, because I think tennis was with me for over 20 years. I cannot separate from it. But at least I don’t have to take injections and do operations, though I still have pain and I still have the treatment for my knee.”
Asked how important it was to have been coached by her husband, she joked: “It’s very tough to find a balance between a husband and a coach. So if you have the chance, just find another coach.”
How would she like to be remembered? “Crazy. Tough. Brave,” she says.
It has been said she is rebellious, is that true? “I think I was a little bit, because when if I was trying to reach my goal, I would never give up. So some people think I’m crazy.”