Li Na said she’s sorry Chinese tennis has not moved on more since her retirement, as the country’s fruitless search for a new champion continues.
Li’s two Grand Slam titles set the bar extremely high for her fellow Chinese, who have laboured in vain to match her trail-blazing achievements.
The contrast was laid bare at last week’s Wuhan Open, where Li received a rock-star welcome during a brief appearance, but none of the Chinese players went beyond the third round.
Following her rapturous reception in Wuhan, her home city, Li said she was disappointed that China hadn’t found a new star to love since she stepped off tour in 2014.
“Actually, I didn’t like (that) people always remember me,” said Li, who won the French Open in 2011 and the Australian Open in 2014. “That means Chinese tennis didn’t grow up.”
“(When) I decided to retire, I was thinking next day (new Chinese winners) would come,” she added.
Hopes were high when Peng Shuai reached the 2014 US Open semi-finals, shortly after Li’s retirement, and Zhang Shuai won her second Guangzhou Open title this year.
Wu Yibing also became China’s first boys Grand Slam singles champion at last month’s US Open. But nobody has consistently challenged at the highest levels.
In Wuhan, five Chinese women were in the main draw but Wang Qiang was the only one to reach the third round — the best ever performance by a home player in the tournament.
Peter McNamara, Wang’s Australian coach, said the high expectations created by Li’s career were a problem for Chinese players.
“I think it’s very intimidating having such a great player and champion who did raise the bar to a level that’s pretty hard to get to,” he said.
“I never bring it up, about trying to reach her heights.”