Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When Li Na headed to Indian Wells this
week, she did so as the top seed. But she wants to be at the top of another
list ... the world rankings.
Li was the beneficiary when Serena Williams decided against playing in the
California desert this week - a decision that meant Li would be the player
to beat at the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The 2014 Australian Open champion and 2011 French Open titlist hopes she can
eventually overtake Serena and become the first-ever Asian No. 1 in tennis
history. She's already the first and only Grand Slam singles champ from Asia
and was the first-ever Asian player to land in a major singles final, which she
accomplished at the 2011 Australian Open.
Note: Li's late father, Li Shengpeng, was a former professional badminton
player who died when she was 14.
It's a milestone week for the 32-year-old Li, who's at the top of the draw at
a WTA Premier Mandatory event for the first time in her historic career.
The Chinese star, who has opened up about her life in an autobiography, has
played in just one tournament since capturing the Aussie Open in January, and
that resulted in a third-round loss at the Qatar Open in the middle of
February. She's spent time at home in Wuhan celebrating the Chinese New Year,
and trekked to her training base in Munich to consult with the doctors who
helped rehabilitate a knee injury.
Returning to action wasn't easy for the busy star.
"I think after you win a big title, I have the same feeling as when I come
back from vacation. I'm like, 'Why should you come back? Why should you
continue? Go rest!'" she said, laughing. "The first training is always tough
because you fight against yourself. Because I just made one goal and the
next goal is waiting for me. I have to prove myself."
Li's next goal is to win the French Open for a second time this spring. She
just turned 32 last week, but isn't even close to thinking about the "R" word
"For goals, I never put a time frame on it," she said. "I wish I can improve
my ranking, but not for this year. Maybe it's a goal for the next two years."
The world No. 2 is currently 5,865 rankings points behind Serena, which
might not mean a lot to most, but that's a pretty big margin. If she's ever
going to reach the top spot, it probably wouldn't be this year.
Believe it or not, Li said in her book that she wrestles with severe self-
doubt, which she blames on the Chinese tennis system, and, more specifically,
Chinese culture in general.
"I'm a product of the Chinese style of education, which has led me to hesitate
before making any decisions, to lack confidence, to not dare to speak up and
to constantly calculate what the result of my action will be," she wrote.
"What I hate most is my lack of self-confidence when I'm playing tennis."
Could've fooled us!
Note: Li has reached at least the semifinals at all the Grand Slam events,
with the exception of Wimbledon (quarterfinals in 2006, 2010 and 2013).
Li has appeared in two finals in three tournaments this season, which she
opened up by going 13-0, including a title in Shenzhen in her native land
Will she title at Indian Wells next weekend? Well, she's never reached a
final there, but she doesn't have Serena to contend with, Victoria Azarenka is
on the mend from a foot injury and Maria Sharapova is still trying to find
her game after battling yet another shoulder problem.
Did You Know?: Li, with more than $18 million earned last year, was the third-
highest paid female athlete in 2013, coming in behind her fellow racquet stars
Sharapova ($29 million) and Serena ($20.5 million). The Chinese slugger
took home roughly $15 million in endorsement money.
Another thing we know about the always-quotable Li is that she's one of the
most compelling personalities in tennis.
The Sports Network