Li Na graces the cover of this week’s TIME Magazine, which named her to its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Along with LeBron James, Lindsey Vonn and Mario Ballotelli, Li is one of only four athletes named to the list. Tennis has always had a strong presence on the list, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic among recent honorees.
“It’s a great honor for me to be in the position of being able to help grow, promote and further build the sport of women’s tennis around the world, especially in my native China,” Li said. “I couldn’t be more honored to be on the list that includes some of the most talented people in the world, and to make an impact on women and women athletes.
“I am grateful to TIME for giving women’s tennis the recognition it deserves.”
In the issue, Chris Evert penned a salute to Li’s charisma and independence and explained how her presence and success has transformed tennis internationally.
Tennis has exploded in China. The country now has some 15 million tennis players; 116 million people watched Li win the French Open. That kind of exposure is crucial to our sport, and it never would have happened without Li. At tournaments, I’ve seen her charm the crowds. When she smiles, everyone melts. She’s such a breath of fresh air. And like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova before her, Li Na has transcended her sport.
This year, TIME opted to commission seven cover portraits to reflect the breadth and depth of the list. TIME Managing Editor Richard Stengel explained the magazine’s reasoning behind its seven covers, the availability of which will vary internationally.
“They are Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl whose advocacy for girls’ rights, writes Chelsea Clinton, is just beginning; Jay Z, whose journey from hip-hop artist to powerful entrepreneur symbolizes, according to Michael Bloomberg, the American Dream narrative; actress Jennifer Lawrence, who charmed the world when she won her first Oscar but, writes Jodie Foster, impressed everyone in the movie industry long ago with her raw talent; Rand Paul, the first-term Kentucky Senator whom Sarah Palin describes as the GOP’s ascendant voice of reason; the inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk, who, Richard Branson argues, is a global visionary for a cleaner, greener future; Li Na, the Chinese tennis phenomenon, whom Chris Evert credits with revolutionizing the sport in her homeland; and Aamir Khan, the Bollywood star who wins praise from composer A.R. Rahman for using his influence to raise social awareness in India.”
The issue hits newsstands Friday.