MELBOURNE, Australia >> Li Na is known for her cheeky banter and light-hearted humor with the English-language media.
Her relationship with certain members of the Chinese media, though, is slightly more contentious — and last year may have contributed to her contemplating retirement.
On the eve of this year’s Australian Open, the 31-year-old Chinese star revealed to Melbourne’s The Age newspaper that she told her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, at Wimbledon last year that she wanted to retire following a disappointing second-round loss at the French Open and a tough defeat at a Wimbledon warm-up tournament in Eastbourne.
Li explained Wednesday after her second-round win at Melbourne Park that the reason had less to do with her tennis, however, and more to do with “so many things off the court.”
Like celebrities everywhere, she was feeling down because of things written by critics.
She said they gave her a “very tough time” when she played the French Open, and it continued to Wimbledon.
After her surprising loss to 67th-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands at Roland Garros, Li was asked if she had any explanation for the defeat for her fans back home.
She snapped back at the time: “Do I need to explain? It’s strange. I lost a game and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologize to them?”
The French Open was the scene of Li’s first — and so far only — Grand Slam title in 2011, which catapulted her to super-stardom in China — and ramped up scrutiny of her, as well.
On Wednesday, Li said the treatment she received after last year’s loss just put her in a negative frame of mind.
“It’s not about the Chinese media. It’s some of them,” she said, speaking in English. “All the media was pretty good. We had very good communication. But someone, maybe they want make more famous, you know, so that’s why they always write down something I never say, or another way around.”
Li certainly was cheerier following her 6-0, 7-6 (5) win over rising Swiss player Belinda Bencic, a 16-year-old with a big serve who won two junior Grand Slam titles last year.
It was Li’s second straight match against a 16-year-old. She beat Croatian Ana Konjuh, the youngest player in the women’s draw, in the first round.
Li is a fan favorite at Melbourne Park for her sharp wit and she didn’t miss a beat when asked at a news conference whether playing someone half her age made her feel old. “No, I think I’m (youngest) in this room, right?” she cracked.
As for her retirement plans, they’re on hold for now — especially as she chases a title at the Australian Open, where she’s a two-time finalist.
“I cannot promise I will play another three or four years,” she said. “But if I’m still feeling healthy, I still love this sport, I will continue.”