FRENCH OPEN winner Li Na may have hit the big time by becoming China’s first grand slam champion – but the 29-year-old believes she could be forgotten if she does not triumph at Wimbledon.
Li (right) is guaranteed a rapturous welcome when she next returns to her homeland, having beaten defending champion Francesca Schiavone in Saturday’s women’s final at Roland Garros.
Her bank balance is also likely to rocket, with her historic triumph tipped to land her a string of lucrative endorsement deals that would see her rival Maria Sharapova’s benchmark of £15m annual earnings.
She does not intend to go back to China, where an estimated 65m watched her semi-final, until the end of her SW19 campaign, however – and believes by then her national hero status could have slipped.
“I will go back after Wimbledon. If I don’t do well at Wimbledon, maybe people will have forgotten me already. These are tough times you know,” she joked.
“I think right now is the best time for me because I can enjoy it with my team. After Melbourne, when I went back to China many people came up to me. Now I can just enjoy it and try to focus on Wimbledon.”
Far from fading into obscurity, Li could even enhance her fame in south-west London.
She reached the quarter-finals in both 2006 and last year, and has significantly improved results since changing coaches from her husband Jiang Shan to Denmark’s Michael Mortensen.