Rich girl Li Na determined to prove critics wrong

Chinese superstar Li Na heads for Wimbledon determined to defy critics who have condemned her as a one-Slam wonder, blown off course by multi-million dollar riches.

Updated: June 22, 2012 09:48 IST
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London: Chinese superstar Li Na heads for Wimbledon determined to defy critics who have condemned her as a one-Slam wonder, blown off course by multi-million dollar riches.

The 30-year-old rocketed to fame and fortune when she captured the 2011 French Open title to become Asia's first Grand Slam singles champion.

But since that Paris breakthrough, she has failed to win another trophy and has not got beyond the fourth round of a major.

"I lost one match so don't try to put me down. This is tennis," she snapped after the defence of her Roland Garros title was ended by Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova.

Not that her decline has affected her earning power.

In the recently published Forbes rich list of the world's highest-earning athletes, Li was one of only two women to make the top 100.

The Chinese raked in $18.4 million to put her at a modest 81st on the list.

Not surprisingly, Maria Sharapova was the only other female on the chart, making 26th place with $27.9 million.

Some fans wonder if Li's wealth and her string of multimillion-dollar endorsements with the likes of Nike, Samsung and Mercedes have eaten into her competitive spirit.

Now ranked 11th in the world, Li will go to Wimbledon having opted not to play any grasscourt warm-up events.

Last year she was defeated in the second round, wilting under a 17-ace bombardment from Germany's Sabine Lisicki.

Before that, Li had twice been a quarter-finalist at the All England Club - losing to Kim Clijsters in 2006 and to Serena Williams at the same last-eight stage in 2010.

Despite Li's headline-grabbing Grand Slam performances, China's best singles run at Wimbledon remains Zheng Jie's semi-final surge in 2008 which was ended by Serena Williams.

Zheng, the world number 27, proved her liking for grass courts in Birmingham last week where she came through qualifying to reach the semi-finals before going down in three sets to former world number one Jelena Jankovic.

Zheng admitted her route to Birmingham had suffered a chaotic build-up.

"I had to enter six weeks before, and at the time I was practicing in China and forgot. I wanted to come anyway though, even if it meant playing in the qualifying," she said.

"Before Wimbledon it's only two weeks of grass court tournaments."

In the men's singles, Asia's leading player is 19th seed Kei Nishikori.

But the Florida-based Japanese comes into Wimbledon under an injury cloud having missed the French Open because of a stomach injury suffered in Barcelona in April.

Nishikori has yet to win a match at Wimbledon in three previous visits - last year, he fell to 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt while in 2010 he was beaten in straight sets by Rafael Nadal.

Earlier this year, Nishikori made history when he became the first Japanese man to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

There will also be plenty of focus on the men's doubles which will be overshadowed by a bitter feud within the Indian team ahead of the Olympics.

Leander Paes, who partners Radek Stepanek at the Grand Slams, will be paired with 207th-ranked Vishnu Vardhan at the London Games.

That was after Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi, the seventh seeds at Wimbledon, said they would not play with Paes for a range of personal and professional reasons, including, Bhupathi said, that he was not trustworthy.

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