Li Na, a two-time Grand Slam champion from China who took tennis in Asia to a new level, has retired due to recurring knee injuries.
The 32-year-old Li posted a statement on social media sites on Friday, ending a week of intensifying speculation that she would announce her retirement ahead of the new WTA event at Wuhan, her home town.
Li won the 2011 French Open, becoming the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title, and clinched the Australian Open title in January in her third trip to the final at Melbourne Park.
She hasn't played since a third-round defeat at Wimbledon, withdrawing from the US Open citing a knee injury.
"Most people in the tennis world know that my career has been marked by my troubled right knee," Li said in the open letter she posted online. "After four knee surgeries and hundreds of shots injected into my knee weekly to alleviate swelling and pain, my body is begging me to stop the pounding."
After three operations on her right knee, dating back to March 2008, Li said her most recent surgery in July was on her left knee.
"After a few weeks of post-surgery recovery, I tried to go through all the necessary steps to get back on the court," she said. "While I've come back from surgery in the past, this time it felt different.
"One of my goals was to recover as fast as I could in order to be ready for the first WTA tournament in my hometown. As hard as I tried to get back to being 100 percent, my body kept telling me that, at 32, I will not be able to compete at the top level ever again. The sport is just too competitive, too good, to not be 100 percent."
Among the list of milestones she set, Li was the first Chinese player to win a WTA tour title (Guangzhou in 2004), the first to reach a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal (Wimbledon in 2006), first to break into the Top 20, first to reach a Grand Slam final (Australia in 2011) and first to win a singles major, her breakthrough win at Roland Garros.
"I've succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years ago was in its infancy in China," Li said. "What I've accomplished for myself is beyond my wildest dreams. What I accomplished for my country is one of my most proud achievements."
Li rose to No. 2 in the rankings after her win in Australia in January, but dropped to No. 6 this month due to her injury-enforced inactivity.
The Women's Tennis Association described Li as a Chinese tennis trailblazer in a statement celebrating her 15-year professional career.
"Li Na has been a fun, powerful, and wonderful player on the WTA tour and, along with her fans, I am sad to hear that she has retired," WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster said. "In addition to her amazing tennis abilities and her warm and humorous personality, she is a pioneer who opened doors to tennis for hundreds of millions of people throughout China and Asia.
"It's hard to be a household name in a nation with 1.4 billion people, but that's what Li Na is."
Li is known for her wisecracks after matches that endeared her to fans and journalists. Here are five of her best comments:
Talking about her husband and former coach Jiang Shan
- "I didn't have a good night last night. My husband was snoring. I woke up every hour."
- "If he says, 'Enough' (jokes), I think we will divorce."
After reaching the 2013 Australian Open final, Li was asked what inspires her
- "Prize money."
Asked about her agent, Max Eisenbud, she said:
- "Max my agent, you made me very rich. Thanks a lot."
Asked about her love of New York City at the US Open
- "People in China say: 'If you love your children, send them to New York. If you hate your children, also send them to New York."
Talking about the tattoo of a red rose on her chest which she hid for many years, as few women in China have tattoos
- "The first time I showed the tattoo it was big news in the newspaper. 'She has a tattoo with a snake.' It's not a snake!"