SHENZHEN, China - Li Na, not just a trailblazer in the tennis world but an absolute megastar in China, made a very special visit to the Shenzhen Open on Finals Day, touring the grounds, meeting her fans, doing a series of media interviews, helping at the coin toss and handing out the trophies.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Li said. "This time is a little bit different - the last two times I was here I had to play, and now you can see me without my racquet, just walking around.
"Finally I can just enjoy watching the matches."
Li made a lot of breakthroughs for China in the 2000s, everything from becoming the first Chinese to win a WTA title, break the Top 20 in the world, reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal and more.
But in the 2010s she took it to a whole new level, becoming the first Chinese to break the Top 10, the first Asian player, male or female, to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2011, repeating the feat at the Australian Open in 2014 and, just a few weeks after that triumph Down Under, going as high as No.2 in the world, the highest-ranked Asian player in tennis history, male or female.
And Li's heroics in Shenzhen were woven into that story. She won the first two editions of the International-level event in 2013 (beating Klara Koukalova in the final) and 2014 (beating Peng Shuai in an all-Chinese final). She retired last fall so couldn't go for a three-peat at the 2015 edition.