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Tough workout for Li Na in war of words

By SUN XIAOCHEN and LEI LEI (China Daily)

08:14, July 05, 2013


There's no doubting tennis star Li Na's ability, but it's away from the court where her skills are being questioned.

China's first Grand Slam tournament winner has found herself in hot water, not because she failed to make the semi-finals at Wimbledon, but because of her comments.

With each of her words being interpreted in different ways on the modern professional sports stage, Li faces a hard time in expressing her individuality while maintaining a wholesome public image.

Experts say that Li, who wields considerable influence off the court, should meet this challenge by honing her public relations skills.

"As a professional player, Li should be aware of the fact that her negative emotions after losing matches will be amplified by the media," said Hong Jianping, a sports public relations researcher with the sports and media department of Beijing Sport University.

"By hiring a professional agency to manage her career, Li has become more mature in handling the media than she used to be, but she still needs more advice on how to contain her temper when facing awkward questions."

After losing in the second round of the French Open last month, Li responded aggressively after being asked: "What do you want to say to your home fans in China?"

She replied, "I just lost a match and that's it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them?"

When the same reporter asked the question again after Li won her third-round match at Wimbledon, the star held back her temper, thanking the fans but criticizing the reporter in a later TV interview.

"How dare he? Doesn't he have any shame?" the 31-year-old said in Chinese.

When the video was put on the Internet, Li's comments drew condemnation in the Chinese media and outrage from postings on China's popular micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo, even among her 21 million followers.

In a commentary carried by Xinhua News Agency, sports journalist Zhang Rongfeng wrote, "Li Na's graceless response has crossed the line from amazing people to hurting people."

A sports consultant said the lack of professionalism in China's sporting system is to blame.

"Professional athletes always keep their tempers under control while showing off their personalities. It's a vocational skill as important as their athletic abilities," said Zhang Qing, founder of sports consulting agency Key-Sports, which provides PR services to athletes and sports organizations.

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