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  • Aug 30, 2014
  • Updated: 6:35am
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SPORT

'Renegade' tennis star Li Na flies home to controversy

Tennis star who quit national team comes home to a mixed reception of admirers, critics and officials eager to bask in glow of Aussie win

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:52pm

Fresh from her Australian Open championship victory, tennis star Li Na received a hero’s welcome in her hometown of Wuhan city, Hubei province on Tuesday.

But she also arrived to a state press and central government aggrandising the Chinese athletic system for producing a star such as Li – despite the fact she clinched last weekend’s women’s championship title several years after leaving the national team.

The country took care of Li and cultivated her. The state is her sponsor
Xinhua News Agency

Li, now worth an estimated US$40 million after her win, was greeted at the airport by the Hubei vice-governor on Monday and was later given a cheque for 800,000 yuan (HK$1.02 million) by the provincial party boss Li Hongzhong, who praised her for bringing glory to the homeland.

Li, 31, is the oldest since 1973 to win the women’s championship.

The official Xinhua News Agency said that Li Na owed her success to her experience on the national team, although the grand-slam athlete quit the state sports system in 2008.

In a piece titled “Why Did Li Succeed?”, Xinhua credits years of state training for Li’s triumph. “The country took care of Li and cultivated her. The state is her sponsor,” the article said.

In Li’s victory speech last weekend – hailed by social media users as the “best victory speech ever” – she thanked her agent, husband and her legion of fans, but left out her country.

The tennis celebrity, considered a bit of a renegade for sporting a tattoo, is adored by her fans for succeeding on her own terms.

The baseliner joined China’s National Tennis Team in 1997, but opted out in 2002 to finish her studies and again in 2008 to set up her own training team. As of 2008, she no longer receives financial support from Beijing.

The notoriously strict state system has been criticised by sportsmen and coaches alike for its rigorous and inflexible programme which fails to cater to the individual needs of athletes.

Along with Li, professional women’s tennis players Peng Shuai, Zheng Jie, and Yan Zi have all left the system to pursue a solo career, which allows them the freedom to pick their coaches and to receive a greater share of their winnings.

Li sparked controversy and headlines back home in 2011 when she said, “Don’t say I’m doing this for my country, I’m doing it for myself.”

Today Li is generating headlines again not just for her Australian title for turning down a once-in-a-lifetime chance to appear on China’s Spring Festival telethon on state broadcaster CCTV. “I just want to spend Chinese New Year at home,” she was quoted saying.

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This article is now closed to comments

acny
If I am Li Na, I will donate those RMB to the charities. Talking about slap in the face.
yellow_lynx_cat
Li Na was unhappy and the Chinese Netizens guessed it might have something to do with an incident in 2001.
Then Li Na was still under the Chinese national system, and represented Hunan in the Chinese National game. She paired with another male tennis player in the mixed doubles and got the third place. During the prize presentation ceremony where the local officials were presenting the medals to the players, Li Na was publicly humiliated - she was slapped in the face by one of the Hunan official, who, apparently was not happy the she only got third place.
This is the footage (began at 00:40). It clearly showed that Li Na was slapped as she bowed her head and she covered her face with her left hand in pain.
http: / / news dot 163 dot com / 14 / 0129 /09 /9JOE2DVC00011229 dot html
(remove the spaces and replace "dot" with the real dot)
dunndavid
Thanks for that link. Obviously this is a person that through her individual effort has achieved much and thinks for herself.
yellow_lynx_cat
Start playing at around 00:30.....that slap was really hard hitting...
brahardja
The contrast between her expression when in Australia and in her hometown with the official is hilarious!
hongkiejj@malaysiaboleh
agreed 100%...but why do I get the feeling dat this picture is shown on purpose ...there has to be other pictures showing her smiling ...afterall, she did receive a million for this photo op. scmp...pls explain
 
 
 
 
 

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