Two-time Slam champion Li Na announced her retirement in a letter on her official Facebook page on Thursday night:
"I’ve succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years ago was in its infancy in China. 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 wrote.
Rumors of Li's retirement have been swirling for months but were never confirmed by her or her agent. Li became the first Asian-born player to win a Slam in 2011 at the French Open. Li captured her second major title earlier this year at the Australian Open and rose to a career-high ranking of No. 2. But after a first-round exit at the French Open and a third-round loss at Wimbledon, Li split with her coach Carlos Rodriguez and has not played a match since. She withdrew from the U.S. Open citing the knee injuries that, as she wrote, effectively ended her career.
"It took me several agonizing months to finally come to the decision that my chronic injuries will never again let me be the tennis player that I can be," Li wrote. "Walking away from the sport, effective immediately, is the right decision for me and my family." Li underwent surgery for her left knee in July but found herself unable to get herself back to 100 percent for next week's inaugural Wuhan Open in her home city. "As hard as I tried to get back to being 100%, 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%."
“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," said WTA Chairman & CEO Stacey Allaster. "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. Thanks to all she has achieved and contributed, her legacy is immense and I have no doubt that her contributions to the WTA will be seen for decades to come in China, throughout Asia and the rest of the world."
Li was listed on the competitors' list for the Wuhan Open, but the retirement news will force her to withdraw from the tournament. She is scheduled to address the media on Sunday in Beijing at 1 p.m. local time. The WTA is planning a farewell ceremony for her at the China Open.
Li's 2011 breakthrough opened up the Chinese market to tennis and with her biting humor and wit, she quickly became the face of Asian tennis. In 2011 there were just two WTA tournaments in China, but now in 2014 that number has grown to five tour-level events, not including a new tournament in Hong Kong and the WTA Finals set to be played in Singapore at the end of the season. Forbes listed her at No. 2 behind Maria Sharapova on the list of highest-paid female athletes, pulling in $23.6 million last year. In May she was featured on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
"Winning a Grand Slam title this year and achieving a ranking of World No.2 is the way I would like to leave competitive tennis," Li wrote. "As hard as it’s been to come to this decision, I am at peace with it. I have no regrets. I was not supposed to be here in the first place, remember? Not many people believed in my talent and my abilities, yet I found a way to persevere, to prove them (and sometimes myself!) wrong."
As for the next phase of her life, Li hopes to settle down, start a family, and start her own tennis academy. As she hangs up her rackets, she walks away from a career having left an indelible mark on the sport. The closing line of her heartfelt letter to fans: "Be the bird that sticks out. With hard work, your dreams will come true."
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