Li Na of China won the French Open today to become the first Chinese to win a tennis Grand Slam major tournament! Aside from the historic nature of the accomplishment, the future impact of how Li Na achieved this success on the Chinese tennis, athletic and general culture will be the defining impact of this moment.
Li Na, the runner-up in this year’s Australian open, beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6(0) to take the title. This was after Li Na had lost four unexpected matches following the Australian Finals loss, when it seemed she took the loss so hard she couldn’t beat anybody any more.
Both relative late bloomers in the tennis scene, Li Na and Francesca Schiavone only made a presence in their late 20s. Li Na, in fact, took time off tennis to go back to university before returning… something you don’t see among the likes of the Williams sisters, Martina Hingis, and other top tennis players of either gender, who often make a presence about a decade earlier in their lives. Li Na is just a few months over 29 years old winning the French Open today, whereas Francesca Schiavone was just short of 30 years old when she won in 2010.
While Li Na’s French Open win today is historic, its future implications are what will be what may be remembered long after. Tennis isn’t all that big in China, but you can bet it will be now! The Parents will love the fact Li Na succeeded in tennis while giving academics a high priority, and will be able to have similar aspirations for their children now. The students can also look for the same in planning their lives and aspirations, avoiding some potential conflict with their Parents’ desires in a country where Parental dominance is very strong, unlike in many Western societies. Aw, how nice. All’s good, right?
Well, not really. Despite being unconventional in her path to success by being able to embrace some of China’s traditional life values, Li Na got to where she is today more with her unconventional ways. Fact is, Li Na’s biggest trademark is her independence. In a rare case among Chinese athletes, Li Na started breaking camp in 2002 after she wasn’t allowed to participate at Wimbledon one year to represent China at the Asian Games, a basic non-event in world tennis. She stopped training as hard in a program that over trained its players and went back to school for a bachelor degree in journalism… a degree that’s probably more than useful for someone in the spotlight as she is now. That’s foresight.
Li Na also married fellow national tennis team mate Jiang Shan, with whom she was in a relationship while on the national team, which was rumoured to be discouraged among the ranks. Jiang Shan eventually became Li Na’s coach at the start at the 2011 season, but was “fired” after Li Na’s string of unexpected losses after the Australian Open. Um, can you say awkward?
Jiang Shan is still her hitting partner, though.
Li Na’s coach now is Danish Davis Cup team coach, Michael Mortensen, who was recommended by young Danish tennis sensation Caroline Wozniacki. Caroline didn’t do so well at this tournament, interestingly.
Li Na also showed her independence in other ways, like having a big tattoo on her chest above her heart. Never mind that tattoos are lowly frowned upon in China, having one on a woman’s chest and exposing it isn’t exactly praised, either.
Li Na’s independence nature, though, seems to be more the norm than the exception for her. She didn’t take an unconventional path to success as much as being unconventional, and that is what will make the big impact in China. The next generation of tennis stars will see that there is a way other than that being taught and often forced upon them, with that “other” way able to promise unprecedented success the current traditional ways could not even come close to matching.
In the near future, there will be a lot of debate, often argument, from conflict arising of those wanting to follow Li Na’s unconventional ways to those wanting their children to follow the traditional ways. There will be good points presented on both sides, but after Li Na’s historic win today, it’ll be tough for the traditionalists to ultimately win out, cause it’s tough to argue against success.
If the traditionalist Chinese are truly concerned about success as they claim they are, they’ll have a better look at Li Na and her ways to learn, embrace and incorporate changes into their ways. Let’s see what’s going to happen from this but it should be fun! In the meanwhile, expect Li Na to become nothing short of a rock star in a country for her success from rebelling, with over a billion people as potential fan base, never mind others around the world.