Li coy on China`s state-run sports system

AFP| Updated: Jan 23, 2014, 15:19 PM IST

Sydney: Li Na Thursday said it was hard to say whether China`s state-run sports system had helped or hindered her career after she raced into the Australian Open final for a third time.

The world number four, known for her humour and feisty personality, is a product of the state-supported sports machine in which promising athletes are spotted at an early age and enrolled in sports schools for training.

The best of the best, including Li, are recruited by local or national teams, where they enjoy state-funded coaching, training and accommodation.

But they also have every aspect of their career controlled with bureaucrats taking a large chunk of their winnings.

As her career blossomed, Li was one of a handful of athletes released from the rigid structure in 2008 and allowed to choose their own coaches, schedules and support staff, and retain most of their prize money.

"It is tough to say because if I didn`t stay in the national team maybe I didn`t have the chance to practice, you know," Li said when asked if she would have been such a success if she had stayed within the state structure.

"I`m not going to say staying (in the) national team is right or wrong.

"For your whole life you have to face so many choices. You have to pick which one is better for you."

Since striking out on her own, Li has gone from strength to strength with her breakthrough win at the French Open in 2011 making her Asia`s first Grand Slam champion.

Li said that, importantly, she was happy with where her career had taken her, travelling the world and earning more than $13 million in prize money.

"I am really happy right now," she said. "I really love my tennis life because tennis give me a lot, it`s change my life as well."

Li faces Slovakia`s Dominika Cibulkova in Saturday`s final at Melbourne Park.