Li Na is the second highest earner in women’s tennis, with only Maria Sharapova out-performing her in 2011. Her French Open victory last summer caused an influx of sponsors and now the Chinese star is in almost as much demand as Sharapova, with whom, incidentally, she shares an agent. Li, who plays the defending champion Kim Clijsters in the fourth round, in a repeat of last year’s final, spoke to The Tennis Space about money, fame, the future – and why grunting is like snoring.
What have you done with the money you won at French Open? Did you buy presents for yourself or your husband?
“Before the final I was thinking: ‘It doesn’t matter whether I win or lose. I’ve still got a lot of prize money. After I thought I should do something special for me or my husband. But after I won the trophy I felt like I didn’t have any time. The next day I had to go to the Nike store and the same day I had to fly back to Munich. So I tried to find the time, but afterwards I felt tired and felt like I needed a little rest. So until now I still haven’t bought anything for myself.”
What does it mean to you to be rich?
“Before I was [French Open] champion maybe I didn’t have so many sponsors. This is the real world. After you do well, of course sponsors come in. I don’t think sponsors like to watch you when you’re on the way down. So for me it’s now more important (to do well) because I know after the French Open I didn’t do well. So right now it’s more important that I have to stay at a high level all the time. [Anything else] is not good for me and it’s not good for the sponsors.”
Is money important to you?
“For me money isn’t important right now. What’s important is that I’m still happy, I can play on the court.”
You obviously feel pressure from your sponsors to be successful…
“Really from the heart I would like to say that I would really like to do something for myself, not only for the sponsors. I know sometimes it’s tough, but I know right now because I had a very bad time after the US Open and the China Open, they say: ‘She should stop’ because I didn’t do well. But right now I’m feeling that I don’t need to listen to what other people say, because I have to follow my heart.”
So you were criticised at home because you weren’t playing well?
“I lost in the first round of the US Open and the first round of the China Open, so all the media were saying: ‘She’s not interested about tennis.’ But I know that because they aren’t sportsmen they couldn’t understand how I was feeling on the court. I don’t listen to them. I think if I listened to them I would have died already.”
How many more years do you want to play tennis?
“I retired once before but now I’m feeling I really love this job. Of course I’ll have to see how my body is feeling. If I’m still healthy and I can still run on the court I’ll continue.”
How big will the Olympics be for you?
“I think the Olympics will be the last time that I can play for my country. Last time, in Beijing, I did well, but this is the last time. Of course I want to do well, but I’ll just see my friends, enjoy the matches.”
Have you thought about what you might do after you retire?
“The dream is to have a tennis ranch in China, to help young players. In China every player has to play in their home city. Some players don’t want that but they can’t find anywhere where they can practise. I think there are good players but they didn’t have a chance to continue playing. So for me I don’t care if he or she plays somewhere else, but if you have a chance I would like to help them a little bit.”
And what do you think of that old chestnut, grunting?
“For me it just doesn’t matter. Everyone sleeps and some people snore and some don’t. You can’t say: ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ Everyone is different.”