Li Na tries to keep low profile in China

BEIJING -- Li Na is trying to keep a low profile in China since returning home to a hero's welcome after winning the French Open for the country's first Grand Slam title.

"Since I have returned, I have tried my best to not go out if I can help it and just stay at home," Li said Tuesday. "Perhaps everyone's recognition of me is greater and their expectations will be higher, but to me I don't want to change the life I have been leading."

Li was speaking at a celebration organized by the women's tennis association in China. But other than that event, and a prize ceremony in her home province of Hubei, she has turned down all requests because she wants to rest.

The already popular 29-year-old became more of a star in China when she beat 2010 winner Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final last month. She was second in the Australian Open this year, but lost in the second round of Wimbledon.

On Tuesday, dozens of fans milled around a stage set up in an
open-air plaza in a downtown shopping mall, decorated with banners
proclaiming, "Congratulations, Sister Na!"

"I think Li Na is awesome! As a fellow Chinese citizen, I feel
so proud of what she's achieved," said 12-year-old elementary
school student Dong Meng, who waved a Chinese flag and a flag with
an image of Li on it. Dong said she played tennis in school, and
Li's victory was an inspiration.

"I hope that she will keep working hard and winning. I want to
play great tennis like her, too," she said.

On Monday, Li was presented an award and a cash prize of $94,000 by Hubei for her win in Paris, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

"Li Na has earned China and Hubei province great honor by winning the French Open women's singles title, so the provincial government decided to name her the Hubei Pioneer of Breakthrough," the government said in a statement, according to Xinhua.

Li's win over Schiavone was watched by 116 million people at home, making it the most-watched sporting event in China this year and the most-watched tennis match ever in the country.

Li is already one of the biggest sports stars in China, on a level with basketball player Yao Ming, and the WTA Tour hopes her success could have a wide-reaching impact on the game globally.

Her success wasn't a bolt from the blue. China invested heavily in tennis, like other sports, before it hosted the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and it was rewarded with a bronze medal in the women's doubles for Jie Zheng and Zi Yan.

Li's career had blossomed since she pulled out of China's government-run sports training system in 2008. That likely will raise questions about the costly system, which has produced Olympic champions in gymnastics and track and field -- along with other racket sports such as badminton and table tennis -- but has a poor record in more commercial sports such as tennis and golf.