There are stories that, no matter how long it goes, are impossible to forget. The one that happened in Roland Garros 2011Just a decade ago, it was perhaps not the most famous, not the most dazzling, not the most epic, but it was unique. That day Philippe Chatrier stood up to ovation a tennis player who not only represented the Chinese people, but the entire Asian continent. We talk about the unrepeatable Na Li, the 29-year-old woman who won her first Grand Slam while writing her name in gold letters in history. But the most incredible thing was not seeing her posing with the trophy, but the entire previous journey until reaching that photograph.
Born in Wuhan in 1982, Na Li knew since she was a child that her future would be linked, yes or yes, to the world of sports. His father would soon put a racket in his hand, although it was not the tennis racket, but the tennis racket. badminton. Thus he spent a while, following in the footsteps of his father, until at the age of 8 he felt the need to wield a different instrument, he definitely embraced the modality that would make him a millionaire. Apparently, it was his own coach who advised him to change the script, not knowing that at that very moment he was changing the course of history.
At the end of the 90s he began to compete with the national team and by the 1999 season he was already making his professional debut. The Chinese was defending herself quite well, although no one could imagine where her roof was. It was precisely in 2000 when the WTA circuit saw her debut in her first final draw, being eliminated in the first round of singles and leaving the doubles champion. The cover letter already invited you to dream big, although it was just that time the most turbulent due to certain external agents. The conflict was that Na Li wanted to study a university degreeFor her, not everything was highly competitive sport, but there were people in her environment who did not share that thought, to the point of wanting to direct her steps. Not surprisingly, this meddling ended up having a negative effect, taking her two years away from the slopes.
He would return in 2004, chaining a streak of 26 consecutive victories and winning in Guangzhou your first professional title. No, he hadn’t forgotten to play. She was 22 years old and had just become the first Chinese player to win a WTA tournament, but the inertia did not end there. That course would end with a balance of 51-4 and with our protagonist within the top 80 in the world. Personal problems were already forgotten, although there were still some from the Federation who tried to hand-pick a different work team. But in front of it, a warrior was going to emerge who never gave in to institutional orders, not even those that forced her to leave 65% of the money obtained from taxes in her country. At the end of his career, Na Li would manage to lower that percentage to 12%, a much more complex success than winning matches.
It was then that the classic period of adaptation within the elite began, where each season presents you with the same test each time January arrives: have you improved compared to the previous year? The Chinese answer was always a resounding yes. Of course, at his own pace, climbing positions little by little and entering more and more in the final tables of important tournaments. In 2011, already at the gates of the top 10, Li would land in the final of the Australian Open, where he would yield to the magnificent Kim Clijsters, a jug of cold water that was actually the prelude to something much greater. In spring, after signing the semifinals in Madrid and Rome, the Chinese arrived at Roland Garros with only six players ahead of her in the ranking. At 29, the time had come to make history.
An unforgettable week
Rivals of all kinds passed through his painting, starting with some affordable opponents (Strycova, to usually do, Cirstea) and ending with the authentic passage of terror (Kvitova, Azarenka, Sharapova Y Schiavone). Four top-10s in a row, waiting at the end of the road for the reigning champion. But this time it was not the day of the great Francesca, who would surrender her crown to the Chinese 6-4, 7-6. Li would win that tiebreak blank, plummeting to the clay of Philippe Chatrier after a long backhand from the Italian that represented the end of the function. A second later, his culture and his values made him join as a spring to make one last race, to the network, where the new runner-up was waiting for him. Three years later we would also see her winning the Australian Open, against Cibulkova, although this time the table would not make her face any top20 in the two weeks of the tournament. A knee injury in that summer of 2014 would end his career, as brilliant as it is genuine, but this already belongs to the epilogue. Today, a decade after that event in Paris, we remember the first Asian Grand Slam champion as you deserve, in your own words.
“My name is Li Na from China, a place where Li Na is a very common name. The truth is that I did not choose this, I started playing tennis when I was eight years old because my mother decided to do so, in fact, during that time I hated tennis a lot because she did not allow me time to play with my classmates at school. As time went by I began to enjoy it, discovering that it was an incredible sport. Tennis has taken me all over the world, exploring different countries thanks to carrying a racket in hand. In the future I will do my best to inspire and help more young players in the hope that they too can enjoy this incredible sport. “