Player to Watch: Na Li

Photo by Marianne Bevis, flickr

Photo by Marianne Bevis, flickr

Na Li seems almost larger than life both on and off the court. The 32-year-old Chinese player will be featured on the cover of the May 26th issue of Time magazine—the second time to grace the magazine’s cover in just over a year. Time also placed her on the publication’s 2013 Time 100, listing the world’s most influential people.

Forbes listed her as the third highest paid female athlete in 2013 with total earnings, including endorsements, hitting $18.2 million. As tennis has become increasingly popular in China, Li’s success provides inspiration and greater exposure for the sport.

The right-handed player broke records when she won the 2011 French Open, becoming the first Asian-born player to ever win a Grand Slam Tournament singles title. This was after she already acquired the highest ranking ever for a Chinese woman when she first hit no. 30 in 2006. In 2014, she attained another Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Li began playing tennis at the age of 9 while growing up in Wuhan, Hubei, China. She turned pro in 1999 at age 16 after spending nearly a year at the John Newcombe Academy in Texas. However, Li withdrew from China’s national tennis team in 2002 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism (although some reports list conflicts with coaches as the cause of her absence). But in 2004 she returned in full force back onto the national team and the tennis court, winning 26 consecutive matches and making it into the WTA Top 100.

As an aggressive baseline player, Li’s favorite shot generally is the crosscourt forehand. Li is currently ranked no. 2 in the world in singles and 54th for doubles. Last year, she made it to the semifinals at the U.S. Open, so she is a player to watch at the 2014 tournament to see if she can claim her third Grand Slam title. Her coach is Argentinian Carlos Rodriguez—formerly coached Justine Henin—and fitness trainer is Alex Stober.

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