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Li Na’s comments after French Open loss cause stir in China

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Li Na

Li Na recorded her earliest exit from the French Open. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Li Na’s comments to Chinese media after her second-round loss at the French Open have garnered attention in China. Li was asked in her post-match press conference if she had an explanation for fans back home for her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 loss to American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

“Do I need to explain?” she answered in Chinese, according to AFP. “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?”

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Li made similar comments during the English portion of her press conference, challenging a reporter for asking her if she was injured during the match.

“Why do you ask me that?” she said. “Because I lose the match?”

Zhang Rongfeng, a journalist for China’s official press agency, Xinhua News, wrote, “Losing the game and her bad temper were direct triggers of her episode at the presser. But if we take a closer look, her ‘unfriendliness’ has a lot to do with her lack of professionalism.

“As a successful athlete, Li Na may be very professional with her training, game experience,PR team operation, and so on, but she is not with her attitude towards the media. She’s impatient and not respectful enough to the media.”

Those are harsh words for a player who many English-speaking tennis writers consider a joy to interview and one of the best quotes in tennis. It was a disappointing loss for Li, who had come into this year’s French Open unencumbered by the expectations that dogged her as a defending champion last year.

She reached the final of Stuttgart last month, where she beat Mattek-Sands in the semifinals 6-4, 6-3 and came into Paris with a good chance of making the quarterfinals or better. She led Mattek-Sands until rain repeatedly interrupted play. After a break, she lost seven games in a row.

Asked to explain the lapse, Li said, “I mean, if I know for sure I not lose seven games in a row. So, yeah, this is very tough condition, you know, back to the court three times.”

She now moves to prepare for Wimbledon, where she is a two-time quarterfinalist. With the extra time on her hands, she may request a wildcard into the AEGON International in Eastbourne, a lead-up tournament the week before Wimbledon.

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  • Published On Jun 02, 2013
  • 17 comments
    commentator
    commentator

    Li Na's comments were reasonable and professional, while those of the Xinhua reporter named Zhang were simply ugly, chauvinistic, and demeaning. Li Na tried hard to win but did not succeed every time, and has absolutely nothing to apologize for.

    DavidWitcraft
    DavidWitcraft

    I guess when Chinese journalists aren't self-censoring themselves, they have a rather high opinion of themselves.

    Michael9
    Michael9

    That's hypocritical of Li Na. She is the world's second highest-paid female athlete (all sports, not just tennis) because of her sponsor endorsements mostly with Chinese companies and multi-national companies with business in China and other parts of Asia. Yet there are many other sportswomen and even tennis players more deserving of such financial rewards than Li Na, based on their athletic achievements. 

    Li Na profits from her celebrity and image with Chinese and other Asian people -- and she knows it. Without this celebrity she would be worth much less. She can't have it both ways: if she wants to keep taking the millions, she has to give back in return. Nothing is for free. If Li Na does not want the responsibilities of being a celebrity, she should dump all her China-related sponsors. But she won't will she? There are thousands of Chinese celebrities who embrace their relationship with their fans and the Chinese news media -- it's part of the job of being a celebrity.


    Scooter2
    Scooter2

    This is cultural.

    The Chinese press wants their stars a certain way. China doesn't celebrate individuality in general, Particularly from their stars who are largely seen as archetypes. While all cultures have this weird relationship with celebrity, I think asia has an expectation of decorum that borders on unrealistic and disengenous. 

    I know because as a Korean American I have a front row seat and a altered perspective toward what happens in Korea.

    PDW
    PDW

    She's right. She doesn't owe a detailed explanation as to why she lost to Sands. Na Li had said when she won the French Open Title that it was sort of unnerving to her how people were fawning all over her, and how people were crying and falling out when they saw her--as if she'd cured cancer of something great of that nature. She said all the over-adulation made her very uncomfortable. She said she understands that it's a wonderful and very prideful thing to be the first Chinese woman to win a grand slam. But she also said she's a HUMAN being like everybody else is too, and that all that excessive hype is silly.

    sfbrennwald
    sfbrennwald

    Good god look at her arms!  I need to get back in the gym...!

    6marK6
    6marK6

    I am re-reading these quotes over and over to see where she said something wrong. She plays to win, she does not have to apologize to anybody else.

    Scott J1
    Scott J1

    excuse me,but wasn't li na already well known for being a testy individual despite her general pleasantries? to suggest they pull endorsements over an aspect of her personality they knew existed before never mind these comments,mind you,coming off an early defeat at a major that's brought her so much success is an egregious overreaction. if that's the case then they might as well do that to a whole host of players including some of our best players. it's only because li na has such a massive following that they feel this way but i say they're just being overly sensitive. give her a break.....stop trying to make her to be a robot and perfect all the time. 

    PaulKyl
    PaulKyl

    It's time for the sponsors to yank endorsement deals with Li Na.

    She's bringing disrepute to the brands who paid her millions every year.

    Michael9
    Michael9

    @DavidWitcraftCase of pot calling the kettle black. I guess you don't realize there is self-censorship and bias also practiced by the American news media and journalists in the selection, omission and framing of news stories.  Ample examples in sites such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Media Matters for America, Democracy Now!, Media Lens, American Civil Liberties Union, etc. Or read "Manufacturing Consent" by Noam Chomsky. 

    In China, like in the U.S., there's a backlash against rich celebrities who act like prima donnas. Our perceptions of Li Na come from her interaction with the Western media -- but this is no indication of how she treats the Chinese news media. If Li Na was being misrepresented, the many other (non-China) news media in Asia would have rushed to her defense.



    aachooo11
    aachooo11

    @Michael9 You're forgetting that the Chinese community,compnanies,people,culture,economy etc are profitting way more than Li-Na is. Celebrities deserve to get payed a lot-don't be jealous. Li-Na served as an excellent role model(to her Chinese fans as well)defending herself against such an ignorant reporter who obviously doesn't understand much about tennis let-alone professionalism-esp on Li-Na's level. I mean she's no.5 in the world for Christ's sake! How else did you expect her to respond? You know to kow-tow to superiors but you don't know to avoid such insulting questions. Thats hypocrisy-as for Li-Na I was of the opinion she handled herself reasonably and for good reason and would like to think her fans would follow her good example when facing a similar situation. BTW who are you to define the rules of a celebrity-a collective Chinese persona?

    russell.tenzing.campbell
    russell.tenzing.campbell

    @Michael9 What are the responsibilities of being a celebrity? A bunch of unwritten social rules that a society has developed over time? So what?  She has put herself in the position to be where she is at because she has combined her talent with an enormous amount of hard work.  The value that the global society places on sports is what--combined with her talent and hard work--has made her rich.  She doesn't owe anyone outside of the people who have directly made it possible for her to achievements a damn thing.  She lost a match, and that reporter is suggesting that she let the country of China down, and she feels (rightfully so) that she didn't let anyone down and that she doesn't owe anyone an explanation for losing a match.  It's her sponsor's right to drop her if they don't like the way she acts, and it's her right to act however she wants.  Please, don't try and use some feaux-intellectual non-sense about how there is some responsibility, cultural or otherwise, to having celebrity status.  

    commentator
    commentator

    @Michael9 There is nothing hypocritical in what Li Na said or did at the French Open. Xinhua journalists' spiteful comments about Li Na were mean-spirited and gratuitous.

    aachooo11
    aachooo11

    @Scooter2 All countries Asian or not must have their taboos. So? 

    what? is there a problem? I thought they would teach that in the earlier years of schooling/education or maybe asssume they didn't. Why? because a fully grown human cerebrum even without an extensive education could pluck out that piece of knowledge quite easily. Common sense.  There actually exist people in this world who are proud of their cultural taboos. Quite a few of them.

    Ps-how can you have an altered perspective having front row seats? somethings amiss there lol.


    MarkofCain
    MarkofCain

    @Scooter2 

    As a Korean-AMERICAN you know Asia? If you did know Asia then you would realize that China is a distinct cultural, political and social phenomena unto itself, as are all Asian nations. This cookie-cutter idea of pan-Asian values is both laughable and somewhat patronizing. The truth is: with the exception of possibly Yao Ming, Chinese athletes get very little traction as a marketable tool throughout Asia. She banks her cheques on the back of the burgeoning Middle Kingdom economy.

    Xinhua is a total joke. Aside from being used as a vessel to gather intelligence, its alegeince is to the CCP and safeguarding its gangsterish grip on power. While its true that many in the US media, in particular, are complicit in shading stories for the benefit of the party-line, Xinhua flat out lies. I've had friends that have worked there and for China Daily. Stories are signed off on by the propaganda department. That is institutional.

    The Xinhua reporter's indignation comes from being a mouth piece of the state, which believes this young woman "owes"  her success to the party, in much the same way it believes Ai Wei Wei does. 

    I applaud her courage. She knew what she was saying. Everybody in China knows how this game is played. 





    MalContent
    MalContent

    @6marK6 @PaulKyl 

    Why is it when a person has an opinion that does not mesh eye to eye with another writer's post,  one or the other feels it necessary to launch a personal attack on the other.

    How can we expect our local, state, and national elected officials to be nice to each other if we common people don't set a good example for them to follow?