Wuhan: Tennis trailblazer Li Na said China`s up-and-coming players needed to be allowed to have fun and express themselves, warning it will take time before the country has another major winner.
Li, speaking to AFP in her home city of Wuhan, said it was her "dream" to help develop the next generation, which is already blossoming with 12 Chinese players in the top 200.
But she remains rueful about her struggles with China`s state sports system and a sceptical media, and said it was still too early for the new players to reach the top of the sport.
"You need to give time for them to see the tour," Li said in an interview during the ongoing Wuhan Open, a tournament which was established on the back of her success.
"Because right now there are so many young players they are just coming out, so they need the experience to do it."
As testament to Li`s career, the second Wuhan Open boasts a new 15,000-seat stadium -- similar in capacity to Wimbledon`s Centre Court and the Australian Open`s Rod Laver Arena.
China has eight Women`s Tennis Association (WTA) events this year, a push inspired by the huge TV audiences which watched Li`s 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open victories.
Li, now 33, tearfully quit tennis on the eve of the inaugural Wuhan Open, but she has been feted this week as she re-emerged in the public eye after giving birth to a baby girl in June.
Fans clutching pictures of Li were out in force to watch a short public coaching session, and she enjoyed a deafening reception when she opened the new tennis stadium on Sunday.But Li, who is also immortalised as a bronze statue in Wuhan, was not always so popular and she can now reflect on how hard she fought for success before finally breaking through late in her career.
After she opted out of China`s state-run sports system in 2008, gaining control of her coaching and sponsorship arrangements, the former badminton player found herself clashing with media as well as officials.
"Of course in the beginning I was feeling a lot of pressure and maybe one second I think maybe I cannot hold it anymore," Li admitted.
"I (had) to do it because I love (tennis). So I just followed my heart to try the best," she added.
Such difficulties are not what Li would recommend to China`s emerging players, and she said they needed to be given "room for them to make fun", something she had to learn to do for herself.
Li`s on-court victory speeches often had fans in stitches, but there were also confrontations with media including one episode when she fled the Australian Open press room in tears.
"If someone likes you, of course someone (else) will hate you," Li said. "In the last couple of years (of my career) I think I learned a lot, how to communicate with some media," she added.
The next step for Li is likely to be her own tennis academy, although plans do not appear well advanced as she adjusts to motherhood after the birth of her daughter, Alisa.
"I think this is my dream. I will try to help the young generation," she said.