Li Na: "Roland-Garros in two words? Challenging and romantic!"

Li Na, the Roland-Garros 2011 champion, talks about her special relationship with the tournament.

 - Myrtille Rambion

The 2011 Roland-Garros champion Li Na came back to Porte d’Auteuil as a new mum, relaxed and happy to come back to the place where she was so successful. She opened up to

What do you feel when you come back here to Roland-Garros?

I have only good memories here. It doesn’t matter if it’s been five years or five months… And I’ll say the same thing 10 years from now! When I come here, I still feel all the emotion from my incredible experiences. And now it's different. During my career, I had always been focused on my campaign and my game. But now, I’m here with my whole family and have had a chance visit the city, really take advantage of being here!

So you’ve been able to be a tourist this time?

Yes, finally! I’ve finally got time. I visited vineyards in the Loire Valley, I learned how wine is made. It’s not far from Paris – just a 90-minute drive. And I also got to see Paris with my family, show them all the major sights. The Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées... all the things you have to see.

It sounds like you’re really enjoying just living your life, being able to just focus on yourself for once.

Exactly. When I was playing, there was a lot of tension, I had to always be thinking about my training, my match or going back to my hotel to pack up for the next trip. Now, there’s definitely less pressure. I don’t have to think about tennis anymore (laughter).

Do you remember how you felt when you were playing here?

This morning, as I got out of the car on my way to the interview room, I thought to myself, 'Oh, it’s Centre Court!' And then I saw my signature on the wall in the hallway and I thought, 'It’s true that I did pretty well here'.

What’s it like to win here?

I remember match point like it was yesterday. I stretched out on the ground and looked up at the sky. I remember it was so blue. It was nice out that day. But the most special moment for me was when I saw my flag before the Chinese national anthem played in the stadium. It made it all that much more emotional and exciting. I was proud of myself, like anyone would be in the same situation.

Had you been dreaming of that moment since you were little?

Definitely. Doesn’t every kid who plays tennis dream of winning a Grand Slam?

Did you have an idol when you were a kid?

Andre Agassi! The first time I watched one of his matches on TV, with his long hair and denim shorts. Of course he changed his style later, but... I thought he was so cool! I thought, 'So tennis players can be like that?' It was so great, because he didn’t care what people thought or said about him. He was just trying to give it his all on the court.

Thanks to you, tennis has gotten a lot more exposure in China. And it’s getting better and better every year. Today, a lot of kids choose to play tennis. You’re a star in your country...

I wouldn’t say that everyone in China knows who I am, but those who like and follow sport – and especially tennis – know my name, sure.

Do you still follow tennis now that you’re retired?

Yes, even if I don’t play anymore. I’m obviously impressed by Serena Williams. She’s strong, powerful and even if she’s won so many tournaments, she’s still hungry for more. And I can understand that she still wants to win. Everyone’s life is different. I retired because my body said stop, otherwise I would have kept playing.

What about the younger players?

I also like Garbiñe Muguruza and her offensive game. I feel like she could do some amazing things (the interview takes place during the 2016 tournament, a few days before Muguruza won the title). Here at Roland-Garros, obviously, but on any other surface as well. As long as she stays injury free.

What does tennis mean to you now?

Tennis is a part of my life. I can’t say it’s my whole life, because now I’ve stopped playing but my life goes on! But tennis changed my life. It gave me an opportunity to travel around the world, meet so many different people, discover different countries, experience different cultures. Tennis opened my eyes. It pushed me to be interested in different things.

Speaking of different cultures, how would you sum up French culture?

The first time I came to Paris, I was kind of stressed because I didn’t speak French. And not very many people spoke English either (laughter)! So communicating was a little difficult. Now, things are good – people are really nice to me. Even when I was still playing, the crowd cheered me on. I could feel from the sidelines they supported me.

If you had two words to describe Roland-Garros, what would they be?

Challenging. And romantic (laughter). Because this is Paris!

And about Paris: what do you like about the city?

The history. And when you walk around Paris, you see so many beautiful things. I’ve never had time to visit any museums, but I will. I love that!