Li Na’s sudden retirement leaves women’s tennis struggling to find a new face in Asia.
Who will be the next women’s Asian face??!!
Li, the region’s first Grand Slam singles champion, was instrumental in expanding the game in China, where tennis participation doubled in the past five years. Her achievements were lauded by fellow players, former champions and fans after she announced her retirement because of chronic knee injuries on Sept. 19. She was the second-highest paid female athlete.
The 32-year-old’s departure “places a huge emphasis on Chinese succession planning in tennis,” said Simon Chadwick, a sports business professor at the Coventry University Business School in England. “Just as the sport was gaining traction in China, it loses its biggest icon. The country now needs a new icon but while the country waits, Li Na needs to remain in the public eye and become an advocate and ambassador for Chinese tennis.”
For the past decade, Li had been the face of tennis in the region. There are currently more than 40 players from China with a ranking on the women’s WTA tour, including four in the top 100. Following Li’s exit, world No. 21 Peng Shuai, who reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open earlier this month, is the Chinese No. 1. Peng is 28 years old. The highest-ranked Chinese man is world No. 190 Ze Zhang. Li urged her supporters not to stick to convention.