Li Na: The Art of Political-Athlete Prowess

Article Written By: Nick Djordjevic

Getty Images

Getty Images

Today, Chinese tennis superstar, Li Na, should be feeling a sense of empowerment along the lines of the ability to command lightning strikes. The 31 year old world number three gave us what was arguably the most entertaining winners speech in recent times after defeating Czech national, Dominika Cibulkova and capturing the title of the 2014 Australian Open Grand Slam.

All glory to the nation! Maybe not quite so. Li Na turned professional in 1999 and controversially separated from China’s state run tennis/athletics system in favor of choosing her own coaches, trainers and mentors as well as keeping her own earnings rather than hand them over to the China Tennis Association. A move highly unorthodox among Chinese athletes.

Li Na is accomplishing things at a point in her career where others are already fading out and are on the downward slope in terms of overall success. But who is to thank for this fortunate position? The athlete first and foremost? Check. Family? Check. The Husband? Check. Coach, trainer and friends for the support? Check. Nothing missing, surely… Unless you are a person of popular national and international interest in a state run Communist system where everything you say and do is monitored. Ah, yes, here is our missing point of grateful acknowledgement. The Peoples Republic of China.

The positive and carefree attitude of Li has made her a favourite on the tour among the fans wherever she goes. Her recent success at the Australian Open had her appearing on the front page of newspapers all across her homeland and headlining television news bulletins. However, her apparent failure to thank her homeland in her victory speech has given us a reason to believe that she may be a little more conscious of the rights and wrongs in politics than it may appear.

This was the second occasion in which Li had not given thanks to China. The first being after her first Grand Slam win at the French Open in 2011.

While sports and politics are usually best kept on different playing fields, typically thanks to the spirit of the athletes themselves, it may be difficult at times to show a strict “business” form character if the individual athlete has been affected personally.

The state newspaper, Global Times, interestingly enough, had this to say

“Whether or not Li Na said that she ‘thanks the motherland,’ she’s still Chinese,” “Her success itself is the best thanks, the best way to give back to the motherland.”

Users of Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, voiced their opinions on the matter.

It’s true, without the state’s support, Li Na would never have won the championship at thirty-one, she might have gotten it at twenty-one.” Believes one Weibo user.

Another user voiced their displease with the current system, stating it was “shameful” that Li had been unable to develop her talents due to “all kinds of government restrictions”.

Li is only 11 total points away from stepping up to the number two spot. Regardless of what the worlds opinion is, Li Na is going places this year. Her appointment of Carlos Rodriguez as her new coach (coach of former world number one and seven-time major winner Justine Henin) will bring an added tenacity to her game which will prove a growing challenge to the current top two of Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams and especially to the rest of the top 10.

Li Na will definitely be in full command of her lightning strikes over the competition for the rest of the year. 

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