Friday 10 to 1: Li Na firsts
With Li Na becoming the first Asian player in history to crack the world’s top three, we take a look at some of the other notable firsts she has achieved in a stellar career.
Chinese trailblazer Li Na recorded yet another first this week when she became the first Asian player in history to crack the world’s top three.
This Friday, we take a look at some of the other notable firsts that Li has achieved throughout a stellar career that’s only getting better each year.
This came about when Li captured the title in Guangzhou in 2004; it was a remarkable victory considering she was a qualifier ranked No.145, and had to win eight matches in order to hoist the trophy. She dropped just one set during that scintillating week, and cracked the top 100 as a result.
Li swatted aside some impressive opposition to reach the last eight at Wimbledon 2006, using her forcing returns and crisp groundstrokes to perfection on the lawns to oust fifth-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and No.10 seed Nicole Vaidisova. She pushed Kim Clijsters in an entertaining quarterfinal battle on Centre Court before going down in two tight sets.
The 2006 season proved one of rankings milestones for Li, who was the first Chinese player to crack the top 30 following her appearance in the third round at Birmingham. Then, after reaching the WTA Stockholm quarterfinals, she became the first to reach the top 20.
Li began her love affair with the Australian Open in 2010, going all the way to the semifinals and defeating top tenners Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams to get there. In the end it was Venus’s sister Serena who stopped her, but not before the Chinese star forced the eventual champ to two tiebreakers.
Following that run at Australian Open 2010, Li debuted in the world’s top 10. She was previously ranked 17th, yet surged to No.10; she finished the 2010 season ranked No.11.
Back in Australia, and there was more success for Li. This time is came in Sydney in 2011, when she became the first player from her nation to win a WTA Premier-level title thanks to her impressive victory over Clijsters in the final of the Apia International at Sydney Olympic Park.
With her run to the Australian Open final in 2011, Li entered stratospheric territory. She became the first Asian player, male or female, to reach a major final, saving a match point to defeat top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals. It took her winning streak to 11 matches after having won the Sydney crown in the preceding week. Acknowledging her run of firsts in an hilarious on-court, post-semifinal interview, she eventually fell to Clijsters in a stunning three-set final.
Just a few months later, however, Li shrugged off the disappointment from her Australian Open loss to be crowned the champion at Roland Garros in 2011, winning the first major title for Asia on her least-preferred surface of clay. In an entertaining final battle against defending champion Francesca Schiavone, Li prevailed in two tight sets to achieve the biggest milestone of her career.
Following her semifinal victory over Petra Kvitova at the 2013 WTA Championships in Istanbul, Li became the first Asian player to be ranked as high as No.3, overtaking the mark of No.4 she’d equalled with Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm after her 2011 French Open win. Despite losing the final in Istanbul to Serena Williams, a top three ranking was a major season goal of Li’s achieved.
With her victory at Roland Garros, endorsement deals come flooding in for the Chinese star. As well as being a superstar in her homeland – where 116 million people watched her historic triumph – she has become an international icon as well. Her endorsement deals with global brands such as Rolex, Mercedes, Nike and Samsung have helped her net more than $18 million in annual earnings, making her one of the world’s richest female athletes.