Chinese tennis player Li Na has announced her retirement at the age of 32, citing injury problems.
Li Na, who has taken both the French and Australian Open titles, made the widely expected announcement in a statement on social media.
After four knee surgeries, “my body is begging me to stop the pounding”, Li Na wrote.
The Chinese Tennis Association thanked her for the “shining moments” Li Na had given to the sport.
Li Na is one of China’s most high-profile athletes and a national hero.
She is well-known for her outspoken independence, her humor and her reluctance to embrace the state-run training system.
Li Na won the Australian Open in January to add to her 2011 French Open title, but the world number six has not played since losing in the third round at Wimbledon in June.
In a letter posted on Facebook, Li Na said that making the decision to retire had taken “several agonizing months”.
Li Na has announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 32, citing injury problems
“Representing China on the tennis court was an extraordinary privilege and a true honor,” she wrote.
“Having the unique opportunity to effectively bring more attention to the sport of tennis in China and all over Asia is something I will cherish forever.
“But in sport, just like in life, all great things must come to an end.”
On China’s microblog service Weibo, tens of thousands of Chinese fans inundated Li Na’s page with positive comments.
Many thanked her for representing the country and wished her well, often using an affectionate term for Li. “Good luck Sister Na!” and “Go Sister Na!” were among the more common comments.
“You once said that all you wanted to do is just play tennis, but in reality because of you, so many people have begun to understand what tennis is really about… I sincerely wish you the best. Thank you for guiding and encouraging us,” said one user.
“She never boasts of her patriotism, because all along she has been quietly doing things for this country that are greater than what you and I have ever done… she has refused to flatter others, but now she has expressed her deepest thoughts. I am deeply moved by her discipline and honesty,” said another user.
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Belarusian Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title and kept hold of the world number one spot with victory over Li Na in the Melbourne final.
Victoria Azarenka, 23, came back from a set down to win 4-6 6-4 6-3 on a cool and blustery evening on Rod Laver Arena.
In a scrappy match, Victoria Azarenka proved the stronger in the closing stages after Li Na rolled her ankle twice and hit her head in two heavy falls.
The victory brought Victoria Azarenka her second Grand Slam title after last year’s win at Melbourne Park, and ensured she will not be overtaken by Serena Williams in the next world rankings.
“I will always keep a very special memory of this court and you will be in my heart forever,” Victoria Azarenka told the crowd in her post-match on-court interview.
However, it was Li Na who carried most of the support throughout the final, due in part to Victoria Azarenka’s controversial medical timeout in her semi-final against Sloane Stephens.
Victoria Azarenka had been accused of gamesmanship, despite later insisting the timeout had been necessary because of breathing difficulties.
Either way, the negative attention she garnered in the build-up to the final only added to the support for the already popular Li Na.
The Chinese player had marginally the better of a desperately scrappy first set of 32 errors and 16 winners between the pair.
Li Na was much the more effective on the return and after recovering from 5-2 down to 5-4, Victoria Azarenka double-faulted on set point, summing up her evening to that point.
Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title and kept hold of the world number one spot with victory over Li Na in the Melbourne final
A few calls from the boisterous Australia Day crowd probably did not help, although at times it appeared that Li was as distracted by her own vociferous supporters.
Victoria Azarenka made a strong start to the second set with a double break as Li Na’s famously unreliable radar went haywire, but the sixth seed was battling back when at 3-2 down when she suffered a fall.
She hobbled back to the chair and took a medical timeout of her own to get her left ankle taped, leaving Victoria Azarenka to don her tracksuit top and practise a few serves.
It looked as though the timeout had worked against Victoria Azarenka this time when Li Na came out firing with five points in a row, but the top seed clung on from 0-40 to stay ahead.
Li Na then offered up four errors in a row to give Victoria Azarenka the break at 5-4, and she closed out the set to force a decider.
After breaks were swapped at the start, Li Na looked to be regaining some sort of control at 2-1 up only to be interrupted for nine minutes by the annual Australia Day fireworks display.
Disaster struck on the resumption, when Li Na crashed to the ground during the first point and rolled the same ankle, before cracking her head on the court as she fell.
The sixth seed looked dazed, although she did manage a thin smile when her face appeared on the big screen, but she needed another timeout, and again Victoria Azarenka went through an unexpected practice routine.
Li Na resumed firing forehands but Victoria Azarenka held on to her serve at 2-2 and then got the decisive break in game five, hanging on to it when Li squandered a break point at 4-3 down.
After struggling to hold on to her serve in the early stages, Victoria Azarenka was now attacking her opponent’s with similar gusto.
The world number one avoided having to serve out when Li Na floated a forehand long on championship point, Victoria Azarenka dropping her racquet and burying her face in her hands in celebration.