Thursday September 18th, 2014

As Li Na announces her retirement, we take a look back at the wit and wisdom she effortlessly dispatched whenever a microphone was put to her. Her on-court achievements -- she was the first Asian-born player to win a major and the highest-ranked Asian player ever at No. 2 -- will undoubtedly put her in the Tennis Hall of Fame. But what elevated Li to stardom was her charisma. With every interview she gave she shattered the ill-conceived stereotype that the Chinese were humorless. Her blend of honesty, biting wit, and penchant for self-deprecation quickly made her a favorite both among fans and the western press, all of whom are lamenting the loss of one of the most unique and winning personalities in the game. 

Enjoy this collection of some of Li's best moments:

• Li's run to the 2011 Australian Open final was her star-making turn both on and off the court. Her post-match interview after beating Caroline Wozniacki, in which she ripped her husband's snoring, bragged about prize money, and forgets her anniversary, was the start of a special relationship with the west. 

• After losing to Kim Clijsters in a tough three set final one match later, Li uttered one of the most famous lines of any post-match speech when addressing her husband. "'I made a lot of jokes [about] him, but it doesn't matter if you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly, I'll always follow you and always love you," she said.

• If Li 2014 Australian Open winner's speech is our lasting memory of her, that's not a bad thing. "Max, agent, make me rich," she said, when thanking her agent Max Eisenbud. Then came her winning quip as she acknowledged all the sacrifices her husband Jiang Shan had made to give up everything and follow her all around the world. "You're a nice guy. And, also you’re so lucky, you find me."

• Li explains the science of sneezing (kind of). This is some masterful joke delivery.

• Rennae Stubbs tries to make fun of Li Na for her age and Li gives as good as he gets.

• In 2007, Li was asked whether she thought China could ever have an event as big as a tournament like the Sony Open in Miami. "If I earn a lot of money, I will make one in China," she said, laughing. Flash forward seven years and sure enough, the WTA is hosting a Premier-level tournament in her home city of Wuhan next week. "I know when so many people ask where I from, I say Wuhan," she said in 2014. "They say small town. Not so many people. Just like 10 million (laughter)."

• Li's favorite player growing up was Andre Agassi, who she admired for his free spirit. "I mean, in China, if men have long hair they think always like bad guy, okay? But I feeling he was playing the court like butterfly, so free. I know he was concentration for him in tennis. I saw he have a earring. In China, that's like no possible you can do in China for the men. I feel like in China, I couldn't do a lot I want. So just watching TV, I feel like, Okay, I want do that. I like him a lot." When the reporter followed up and asked if she wanted to be like Yao Ming, she uttered what was effectively her mission statement. "I didn't want to do anyone. I just want do myself."

• ​More on Agassi:

Q. Why? Why was he your favorite player?
NA LI: No, I mean, you can saw picture before. He was long hair, and he can do whatever he want. And then I just feel like -- yeah, I just think maybe some day I was like him, like I can do whatever I want.

Q. You have long hair. 
NA LI: Yeah, but I didn't have a good baseline like him. (laughter.)

• Li always joked about her love of shopping:

Q. What's it like for you in New York when you walk through New York? What do you like here? 
NA LI: I like the street number five.

Q. Fifth Avenue?
NA LI: Yeah. I was talk to my husband. I say, Okay, after the match we have to go there. He say, No. Save the money for me. I stay in the house. So after the match I will go there. I mean, I didn't care about him, so I go myself. Taking credit card. That's it.

• After beating Caroline Wozniacki at the 2008 Australian Open, Li was asked to explain why she was better than Wozniacki that day. "Maybe [because] I eat Chinese food. (Laughter.)"

• ​Li beat her again in the 2011 Australian Open semifinals, this time saving match points for a three set win. 

Q. They call her the great Danish wall, but you have the great Chinese wall. So it was easy, no?
NA LI: I think Chinese wall more famous.​

• Li made history along with Zheng Jie when the two both made the Australian Open semifinals in 2010.

Q. This was a great day for China, for you two women. Where are the men? Where are the Chinese men?
NA LI: The Chinese men in China (smiling). 

• Li's mother refused to come watch her matches, even if she was in a major final, and generally kept her distance, much to the confusion of the western press. Here's the text exchange after she won the French Open in 2011:

Q. When you did speak to her, what happened?
NA LI: No, after tournament, I send text message. She just asked me, Are you come back? I said, No, I not come back. I say, I will come back after Wimbledon. Okay. Then after, she never send me text message again. (Laughter.)

• Represented by Maria Sharapova's agent, Li was once asked who Eisenbud would root for if she played Sharapova in a match. "I think Max just eat sugar and be somewhere else," she said, referring to Sharapova's Sugarpova candyline.

• Tennis is still a new sport in China, which means Chinese fans needed to some time to learn proper tennis decorum. They would often call out to her during matches and even points and Li never hid her frustration. "May be they think I'm stupid so they coach me," she said. "But I would like to say I'm not stupid. I can play very good tennis."

• Li Na on Dancing With The Stars? Don't count on it.

Q.  There's a dancing competition in America called Dancing With the Stars. 
NA LI:  Yeah.

Q.  Monica Seles danced there and starting Monday Martina Navratilova. 
NA LI:  Yeah.

Q.  Would you ever consider going on TV and being in a dancing competition?
NA LI:  Me? 

Q.  Yes. 
NA LI:  After drink, I can.  (Laughter.)  But before drink, I cannot. 

• Li Na for tennis commissioner: Here's her suggestion for necessary changes at the U.S. Open. "Maybe take off the french fries. No, I mean, every time I was being the US Open I always can smell the french fries everywhere. Sometimes good, but sometimes if you are hungry, it's very tough to hold [focus] there."

• More insight into the marital dynamic between Li and Jiang: "So, like, when first time I was training with [Carlos Rodriguez] I was so exciting, but after three days I was dying. My husband didn't come with me in Beijing. I call him and say, Carlos is crazy. He was like, Why? I was say the program to him. He was like, Don't make the joke. I say, Hey, listen, I'm not joke. I really doing this in the morning. He said, Okay, okay, I will come to you next day. So next day he was in Beijing. I was doing some exercise with Carlos. He was sitting in the gym. After halfway, he was like, Are you finished? I said, No, only halfway. He said, What? I said, Really, yes. I do this for three days already. He said, I'm tired. I say, Don't say that. I'm doing exercises, you're only sitting. Don't say you're tired."

• After a topsy turvy 6-2, 1-6, 6-0 win over Simona Halep in the second round of Wimbledon in 2013, Li was asked to explain the match. "I would just like to say, welcome to the crazy women's tennis tour."

• Li looked poised to finally win the Australian Open in 2013. She was in good form and playing defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the final. But she took three hard falls throughout the match, one resulting in her head banging against the court. When asked why she fell so often? "Because I'm stupid (smiling)."

• Li offers Serena Williams some relationship and career advice:

Q.  We know you said that Carlos saved your marriage. Now, with Serena, she's being coached by her boyfriend. Now that you have been through all this, what would be the advice you would give to Serena for being coached?
NA LI:  Don't be married, okay?  Yeah.  (laughter). If Dennis is not my husband I was feeling we are still working. But after marriage is different, totally different, because men is totally change (laughter). 

Q.  So it's the guy's fault? 
NA LI:  Yeah.  The woman is never fault.

• Li on marriage: "I don't know how you say in America, but in China one movie, they always say, Doesn't matter how is your choice, marriage always wrong. So the best way just keep wrong until the end. So I just follow that."

• When Li teamed up with Rodriguez in 2012 he became more than a tennis coach. He was a life coach. Here's Li getting philosophical about the differences between the East and the West:

Q. Carlos was saying that the important thing for you against the good players, especially Serena, is to unlock yourself and play freely with enthusiasm and not get so tight inside.  Can you talk about that?

NA LI:  I think this is, I don't know, maybe is different, Chinese and Western, because I think the Western people, they like to share how you feeling now. But I don't know how is Chinese, but for myself, if I feeling something, I never try to talk to the team. I always block. I always feeling I'm strong enough, I can fix everything. I think this is weakness. So I think the real strong person, if they feeling something, for sure, they will speak out, because they find to someone can help them to make even more stronger. So that's why I was feeling every time I talk to Carlos I was feeling terrible.  I was feeling no secret in front of him. But now I was feeling much better, because I try to, how do you say, open my mind a little bit to share the feeling.

• Athletes, they're just like us: Here's Li's reaction after becoming the first Chinese woman to crack the top ten: "So exciting. Maybe I take the beer tonight."

• After losing in the first round of the U.S. Open in 2011: I think it's terrible feeling. I mean, two years in a row, first round here, first round Indian Wells, Miami. I mean, normally I like hard court a lot. But I think these two years I just doing s***." 

• Under Rodriguez, Li's game became more offensive. Why the change? "You know, getting old, need less time on the court (smiling)." 

• Li takes a dig at the aging press corp after playing a 16-year-old:

Q.  Did that make you feel like an old lady?
NA LI:  No, I think I'm mostly young in this room, right?  (Laughter.) 

• When it came to food, Li famously said she couldn't go more than three days without eating rice. So the typical pasta feed wasn't part of her pre-match regimen:

Q.  Did you eat Italian food before playing Pennetta? 
NA LI:  I'm not eat pasta before the match because I didn't want my legs feeling like pasta (laughter). 

• Did you know Li named her rackets? She did. What did she name them? "Li Na 1, Li Na 2, Li Na 3...."

• Somewhat prescient: Li made the Australian Open semifinals in 2010 and then the final in 2011. "If I win this year, maybe next year I will retire. (Smiling.)" She finally won that Australian Open title this year. Now she hangs up her racket. 

• ​Li Na, keeping it real:

Q. Have you always been somebody that is a stand-up comedian, as we would say, funny? 
NA LI: This is the real one. I'm not fake. 

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