Sports / Tennis

Yearender China sports: Li Na 'playing herself' in 2012

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-12-24 15:54

BEIJING - In a year of surprises, from Roger Federer's 17th Grand Slam title and Andy Murray's first major victory to Serena Williams' Golden Slam, the biggest story with Chinese tennis was still Li Na playing herself in 2012.

The superstar, who became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open last year, has been flying the Chinese flag in world tennis and will possibly do it in years to come.

Despite great efforts, Li's compatriot players hardly took inspirations from the pioneer or made breakthrough in the past season.

In the gradually tennis-crazy country, Li is still in a class of her own or "playing myself" as mentioned in her bestselling autobiography.

Yearender China sports: Li Na 'playing herself' in 2012

Li Na shows her autobiography entitled Du Zi Shang Chang, or Playing Myself during an autobiography-signing ceremony in Beijing, Sept 8, 2012. [Photo/CFP]

Her Chinese language autobiography entitled Du Zi Shang Chang, which literally means Playing Myself, was published this summer. It shows her path to superstardom wasn't at all easy.

"I hope my story can inspire people of all ages," the Chinese megastar said during her book signing in Beijing.

In the book, Li opens up about several struggles and successes, including growing up inside and out of the controversial state tennis system in China; the passing of her father and the often troubled relationship with her mother; meeting her future husband and coach Jiang Shan; retiring from professional tennis and going to college; coming back to professional tennis; the long road up the ladder of women's tennis; and playing with the pressure of a nation.

After the French Open triumph, Li had struggled to adjust to her new status as a major champion. For almost a year, she had not won a tournament and even found it hard to reach a final.

"I must handle the pressure coming from the expectations of more than a billion people back home in China, and it was very hard," Li said in her autobiography.

Li's title drought this season was finally ended after she hired new coach Carlos Rodriguez. In her first tournament after joining forces with him (despite communicating with him only electronically), she reached the final in Montreal. The next week she won an event in Cincinnati, joined midweek by the Argentine.

Yearender China sports: Li Na 'playing herself' in 2012

Li Na holds up the championship trophy after defeating Angelique Kerber of Germany at the women's Cincinnati Open tennis tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug 19, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

Li's surge towards the end of the 2012 season reached climax when she was back into top eight elite and qualified for the season-ending WTA Championships.

The 30-year-old would like to prolong her association with Rodriguez, who famously guided Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles.

"After Carlos came to my team, the change was unbelievable. I was happy to have him because I think he is a positive person and gives a lot of positive things for all the team," said Li.

"He makes me train a little bit for strength in the mind, not only for tennis. I really wish to work with him next year."

Yearender China sports: Li Na 'playing herself' in 2012

Li Na returns a shot to Angelique Kerber of Germany during their match at the round-robin stage of the WTA Championships tennis tournament in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct 25, 2012. [Photo/CFP]

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