The newly-crowned French Open champion Li Na, whose victory has created a sensation back home, is not returning to China until Wimbledon, because she fears that her fans may forget her French win if she fails to do well there.
Li said she has chosen to put her celebrations on hold and stay in Europe, partly to avoid fans at home and to prepare well for Wimbledon.
“If I don’t play well at Wimbledon, may be people will forget me when I come home,” she jocularly said in an interview to China Daily in Paris.
For young Chinese people, Li has become a role model.
By Sunday afternoon, more than five million people talked about Li on Sina Weibo, one of China’s leading micro- blog websites.
More than two million people have also registered as Li’s fans.
The victory in French Open made her the first Chinese and Asian player to win the Grand Slam tournament.
The victory will elevate her to world No 4, equalling the Asian record set by Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm.
“When you have the first one, naturally you will think about the second one,” Li said about plans for Wimbledon.
Although she always thought that she had the ability to win a Major, she was surprised that her first Grand Slam title came at Roland Garros.
“French Open title? No, I never thought about it before,” said Li, following the tournament’s tradition of producing unlikely champions.
The Chinese No 1 is happy to have shown her potential on the clay courts, her least favourite surface, and now believes that the unexpected triumph will give her a competitive edge on other surfaces.
Li had never gone beyond the fourth round at Roland Garros before Saturday’s victory, although she had made it to the quarterfinals - at least - at three other Grand Slam events.
“Now I have more confidence playing on other surfaces,” she said.
Next is the grass court season and Wimbledon, the third Major of the year, where she made the last eight in 2006 and 2010.
The best complement for her came from Sun Jinfang, President of the China Tennis Association, the official body with whom she had a tiff in 2008 over marrying her coach, Jhang Shan.
Sun said Li’s victory will help drive tennis sport forward in China, where it is still considered an elite game that lags behind basketball, soccer and table tennis.
“The victory will help re-evaluate the sport and inspire more youngsters to play tennis,” Sun said.
Li also passed on to her fellow Chinese players, an inspiring message, saying all they need is the confidence that they can emulate her heights in the near future.
“They are all very good players and they just don’t have trust in themselves,” Li said.
“They need to believe that they can also do it. Chinese male players have never gone beyond the second round of any ATP tour event, nor have they played in a Grand Slam.”
The highest-ranked Chinese male player is Bai Yan, who is No 354.
“Chinese people are so lacking in confidence. If I can prove that we can do it, the young players in China will feel the same,” Li said.
No matter how significant the French Open crown is, Li said she is mentally preparing for the next challenge.
“That’s what it is all about, playing on the professional tennis tour. You can’t stop after one victory. So for me, it will start all over again on Monday.”
The 29-year-old also said, she believes that age will not stand in the way of her reaching even greater heights.
“For me, age means nothing but strokes on paper. I’ll keep playing as long as I’m healthy.”