WUHAN, China - Li Na, who retired from professional tennis in September, has officially come off the WTA Rankings now, making room for a Top 10 return and a big debut for a leading WTA Rising Star.
Having been ranked No.2 in the world as recently as August, Li announced her retirement from the sport just a month later, but her name stayed on through last week's year-end WTA Rankings. And despite not playing since Wimbledon her first six months of the year were still good enough to keep her at No.9 - in fact it was not her quality of play that pushed her out of the game, but something else.
"I didn't know why she quit at first, but then I read about her knee, and I totally get that," WTA legend Martina Navratilova commented. "I had knee surgery when I was 36 and had played on bad knees for a couple of years, and I know how frustrating it is when you can't play as well as you would be able to if the knees didn't hurt. So it's really a shame that her body forced her into retirement from tennis.
"You wish for an athlete to quit the sport on their own terms, and she wasn't able to do that. She quit when she won a Grand Slam this year, which is great, of course, but you feel like she definitely still had a chance to win more Grand Slams, so it's really a sweet and sour ending to a fantastic career."
Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam champion and former No.1, predicts a happy future for Li.
"She'll get her knee fixed and be pain free, and I'm sure she'll have a great life," she added.
"She'll be able to do anything she wants."
Speaking from the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, where she visited as a tournament ambassador, Li talked about how her life might be even busier since retirement. "You could say I'm busier than when I was playing!" she said. "I was in Shanghai for the Australian Open trophy, now I'm here, and I'll be in Melbourne as well. I'm really enjoying myself right now though."
But while one WTA star is movin' on out, others are movin' on up, most notably the players right behind her. Angelique Kerber goes from No.10 to No.9, Dominika Cibulkova goes from No.11 to No.10, returning to the career-high she first set in March, and Ekaterina Makarova goes from No.12 to No.11, also a return to her career-high - and on the verge of breaking the Top 10 for the first time.
There was a breakthrough just a little lower on the list, though - WTA Rising Star Garbiñe Muguruza, who wasn't even in the Top 50 when the season began, rose from No.21 to No.20 to become just the seventh Spanish player in WTA history to break the Top 20. The other six, with their career-highs, are Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario (No.1), Conchita Martínez (No.2), Carla Suárez Navarro (No.14), Anabel Medina Garrigues (No.16), Magüi Serna (No.19) and María José Martínez Sánchez (No.19).