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Na Li's raging temper lands her in trouble
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Gunning to lift her Second Grand Slam Title, Chinese tennis star Na Li heads into next week's US Open as the Fifth Seed but with a number of questions surrounding her temperamental issues. After winning the French Open in 2011, Li became a household name in China as she became Asia's first Grand Slam singles champion.
But the World No.6 has developed a reputation as a feisty character in a nation where athletes usually abstain themselves from emotional outbursts. After her unceremonious Second Round exit at the French Open and her Quarterfinal stint at Wimbledon, Li turned on Wang Zijiang of Official News Agency Xinhua when he asked if she had a message for fans back home.
“I lost a game and that's it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologise to them?” Li reacted in rather harsh Words. A month later at Wimbledon, he asked the same question. “How dare he? Doesn't he have any shame?” said Li.
Her reaction provoked widespread criticism on China's micro blogging sites. “Losing the game is OK, you can win it next time. What you really need to improve is your courtesy and behaviour,” said a comment with the username Dibayin.
This year’s Australian Open Finalist has also adopted an individualistic style since she opted out of the Government Control 5 years back, allowing her to choose her own coaching staff and also keeping most of her prize money.
Her supporters have expressed before of the immense pressure she faces as China's top tennis player, and her performance at tournaments being closely monitored by Chinese media, who are largely not familiar with dealing with athletes who confront aggressive questioning.
Wang, a London-based Sports Reporter for Xinhua, said that her response had “shocked” him, and that she had “definitely overreacted”.
Li being a prominent figure in China has the power to choose which questions to answer, he added. “Many can only ask questions which please her, and this allows Li Na to confront the media and gives her a feeling of looking down on them,” he said.
“Li Na has been spoiled in this media environment. When she answers to the media, she is not professional, she really is childish. And being faced with direct questions from Xinhua - whose purpose is not to gain attention and improve newspaper sales - her sensitive self-esteem cannot cope.”
Zhang Rongfeng, one of Xinhua's commentary writers, said Li had a “weakness of character”. “When she wins a game, she has a better attitude and is nice to the media. But if she loses, she transfers her bad temper from the tennis court,” he said.
She challenged Chinese convention by getting a tattoo - a red rose - on her chest and earlier this year was also on the cover of Time magazine, in which US tennis legend Chris Evert praised her as a “maverick”.
But her blunt views have sparked controversy before too, notably when she claimed she was not “here for the country” in a tournament last year. But some Chinese reporters say the media should respect Li's individuality.
“Both sides need to step back a little bit to see the picture here because Li Na is the one player we have who is capable of doing great in tournaments,” said Liu Renjie, who covers tennis for Sina, one of China's top Internet news portals, and has interviewed her on many occasions. “Sometimes we need to maybe take it easy, and not put so much pressure or criticism on her so we can ease the tension.”
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