Li Na initially started out playing badminton aged six, inspired by her father who was a professional badminton player. But at the age of eight she made the transition to tennis, turning professional in 1999. By 2004 she had broken into the WTA top 100 winning her first WTA title along the way and in 2006 became the first Chinese Grand Slam quarter-finalist at Wimbledon.
Li Na’s steady progress continued but it was in 2011 where she really started to make her mark on the women’s game. She became China’s first ever Grand Slam singles finalist at the Australian Open but lost to Kim Clijsters having taken the first set. Despite this disappointment, Li Na went one better at that year’s French Open as she at last claimed the Grand Slam title that her obvious talent deserved. She knocked out Maria Sharapova en route the final and defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone in the final in straight sets.
…surge in popularity…
However, for the next year and a half that was it for Li Na’s Grand Slam final appearances as she embarked on a disappointing run of form in major tournaments perhaps due to the pressure of being the first Asian Grand Slam singles winner and her surge in popularity.
But in the recent Australian Open, Li Na rediscovered some of her best form as she knocked out hot favourite Maria Sharapova in the semi-final before succumbing to the all-conquering world no.1 Azarenka in the final. Despite this setback, all of China will be hoping that Li’s excellent 2013 form continues as the season progresses.