BEIJING, China - For 15 years tennis fans witnessed the transformation of Li Na from a player with promise to one of the most popular, successful and loved tennis players of all time.
A pioneer who opened China and Asia to tens of millions of fans, Li announced her retirement today and unveiled the next phase of her influential 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 in an open letter on Friday.
"Walking away from the sport, effective immediately, is the right decision for me and my family."
Stacey Allaster, Women's Tennis Association Chairman and CEO, noted that Li's personality, athleticism and leadership transcended Chinese culture as well as the sport.
"It's hard to be a household name in a nation with 1.4 billion people, but that's what Li is," Allaster said. "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. I wish her the best of luck in this next chapter in her life."
Fans will now receive an opportunity to observe Li as a WTA tennis legend, ambassador and possibly one day a mom.
"On a personal side, I look forward to starting a new chapter of my life, hopefully having a family and reconnecting with those I did not have the luxury of spending a lot of time with while playing," Li said in her farewell address.
She will work with her agency, IMG, to start the Li Na Tennis Academy and she plans to stay active in promoting tennis in China while also supporting the Right to Play program for underprivileged kids.
Li ascended to No.2 in the world earlier this year. Overall, Li captured nine WTA singles titles and two WTA doubles titles and two Grand Slams to earn over $16 million in prize money throughout her career.
And Li's popularity did not go unnoticed. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine and ranked as one of four athletes on Time's 100 Most Influential People In The World. She also tops out as one of the most powerful endorsement properties in professional sports, earning her way to the Forbes Celebrity 100 List.
Li hit World No.2 in February this year, shortly after her Australian Open victory, and actually held that spot as recently as the week of August 4 - less than six weeks ago. But Li's continual knee problems forced her to sit out the entire summer hardcourt season - including the US Open, where she was a semifinalist last year.
Fans can visit the WTA Facebook page to send well-wishes to Li. WTATennis.com will capture and post the best well-wishes.
Watch Li's press conference LIVE here on WTATennis.com Sunday (1pm Beijing Time/6am GMT/1am ET).