Li expects more from compatriots

China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-03 07:49

Li Na is disappointed that Chinese tennis has not moved on more since her retirement.

As the country's fruitless search for a new champion continues, Li's two Grand Slam titles continues to be the gauge for her compatriots, who have labored in vain to match her trail-blazing achievements.

The contrast was laid bare at last week's Wuhan Open, where Li received a rock star's welcome during a brief appearance, while none of the Chinese players advanced beyond the third round.

Following her rapturous reception in Wuhan, her home city, Li said she was disappointed that China hasn't found a new star to love since she quit the tour in 2014.

"Actually, I don't like that people always remember me," said Li, who won the French Open in 2011 and the Australian Open in 2014.

"That just means that Chinese tennis hasn't grown up. When I decided to retire, I thought new Chinese champions would come around very quickly," she added.

Hopes were high when Peng Shuai reached the 2014 US Open semifinals, shortly after Li's retirement, and Zhang Shuai won her second Guangzhou Open championship this year.

Wu Yibing also became China's first boys Grand Slam singles champion at last month's US Open. But no Chinese player has consistently challenged at the highest levels.

In Wuhan, five homegrown players were in the main draw but Wang Qiang was the only one to reach the third round - the best ever performance by a Chinese player in the tournament.

Peter McNamara, Wang's Australian coach, said the high expectations created by Li's career are an obstacle for Chinese players.

"I think it's very intimidating having such a great champion who raised the bar to a level that's pretty hard to get to," he said.

"I never bring it up, about trying to reach her heights."

Too modest?

Li was always a special case for Chinese tennis, as she took the maverick step of breaking from the state-run system to forge her career on her own terms.

The 35-year-old said that modesty, a typical trait of Chinese culture, could be holding players back.

Peng is currently the top ranked Chinese player at 24, with Zhang at 26.

"They always say 'Oh, I'm not so good', but for the level to grow, you have to show all of the world that you are good," Li said.

World No 1 Garbine Muguruza also said she found Chinese players "very respectful on the court ... very quiet", in contrast to Li, who she described as having "great intensity".

Fabrice Chouquet, co-director of the Wuhan Open, said tennis in China is in the middle of a transition between two generations.

"We have a solid No 1 and 2 here," he said, referring to Peng and Zhang. "And behind them a younger generation is really getting ready to rise."

Wang is part of that new crop, said McNamara, though she has yet to reach her full potential.

"My girl is a baby. She's 25 but she's 20 as a tennis player," he said. "Chinese players, they mature late."

Chinese tennis success has mainly come from women, with Wu's victory in New York an anomaly.

While there are five Chinese women in the top 100 and 11 in the top 200, the top Chinese man is Wu Di, currently ranked No 220.

Agence France-Presse

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