Sport & Culture

Can Li Na Take the Pressure?

Tennis star Li Na doesn’t just have her rivals to cope with in the Australian Open. There’s the hopes of China.

Chinese tennis superstar Li Na is preparing for a massive match with Kim Clijsters on Sunday in the 2012 Australian Open, a rematch of last year’s final.

The Belgian star won that time, but Li went on to take the French Open a few months later. She defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues on Friday in the third round. The Spaniard was trailing 3-0 in the first set and then retired after twisting an ankle.

Li defeated Ksenia Pervak in the opening round and then Olivia Rogowska to earn the clash with Garrigues.

It’s not just about beating the opponents on the court. Coming from a country hungry for success in the sport can have massive benefits for a player in terms of facilities and support. But there’s a flipside to the coin.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

While some players may struggle with tennis elbow, Li has the Chinese shoulder. She’s finding that with great success comes great pressure. There’s huge attention on her in Melbourne from a posse of Chinese journalists reporting her every move to fans back home.

Li admits that she had troubled adjusting to her new status after winning in Paris last year.

“My life changed sharply after Roland Garros, so I lost my concentration on the game,” Li said. “But for those top stars, such as Serena (Williams) and Maria (Sharapova), they can still focus on tennis while taking care of so much off-court stuff as well. That’s the difference I realized after the slump, and I just started to refocus on the game recently.”

‘Every time, the media will ask me questions about the pressure. I think the motivation always comes together with the pressure. I’ve been dealing with them all the time,” Li said. 

There are not only expectations in China – even sections of Australian society have benefitted from Li’s success at the Melbourne tournament over the years.

“She's made a successful start to 2012, and if that continues Li could be more valuable to Australian tourism than Oprah,” Aussie tourism chief John Lee told reporters. 

“The Chinese fans are not only visiting Melbourne and its surrounds. They will also visit Sydney, the Barrier Reef and Uluru.”

“We’ve been working hard on the strategy to draw Chinese to visit Melbourne for the Open. It’s already been a lot of interest, because of Li Na being in the final last year and winning the French Open,” said Steve Woods, the CEO of Tennis Australia, according to China Daily

With three rounds of the tournament over with, so far, things are looking good for Australia, China and Li.