Give China's young tennis stars room to grow, pleads Li Na

Australian Open champion hopes the press will treat rising players better than her so they can develop their talents and become better people

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 10:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 10:32am

World number two Li Na has used World Tennis Day to issue an impassioned plea for China's young stars to be left alone to develop both as players and as people.

"Every junior has his or her uniqueness," said Li. "I ask the press to give them space so they can develop as players and to give them encouragement rather than ask for opinions [on them] from me."

The 32-year-old Li has had an often-tempestuous relationship with certain sections of the Chinese media and yesterday laid the blame on the fact that they tried to pry too much into her personal life, something she hoped the next generation of Chinese players wouldn't have to face.

Li famously walked away from the sport from 2002-2004 to take on a degree in journalism at the Huazhong Institute of Science and Technology and she said she had done so to better prepare herself for life on tour and for dealing with press conferences.

"The first time I retired I felt I didn't have good communication with some journalists. So I wanted to learn why they always wrote the wrong thing," said Li.

"But when I studied I learned that this wasn't always about the journalist; it was about their personality.

"So having finished university, I think I am much stronger when I face journalists and it has helped me a lot for press conferences."

Watch:China's Li Na eyes world top tennis spot

Fresh from her 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 victory over Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in the Australian Open - and having achieved a career high in the world rankings, Li was in town for the BNP Paribas Showdown held last night at the Hong Kong Velodrome in Tseung Kwan O.

Despite the near-capacity crowd behind her, she lost to former US Open winner Sam Stosur 6-4, 6-3 in an error-strewn game.

The other match saw former world number one Lleyton Hewitt beat current world number five Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-5.

Li said she had been encouraged by the recent growth of tennis in China.

"You see so many children picking up a tennis racquet. It's not a table tennis one any more, it's tennis. So that's good for the game," she said.

"At the Australian Open we had over 20 players and I am seeing a lot of juniors who are very good players. Chinese tennis is improving a lot."

Li, who won the French Open in 2011, declared she had now not only set sights on not only adding to her grand slam collection but on becoming the number one player in the world. "I'd like to take them both," she said.