By BROOK LARMER, The US Open Issue
The patch of Wimbledon grass known as the Graveyard of Champions was supposedly exorcised four years ago, when the blue-blazered gentlemen of the All England Lawn Tennis Club demolished Court 2, built a new grandstand in its place and, in 2011, renamed the haunted space Court 3. But the tennis fans watching the 2013 championships still knew. Li Na, China’s tennis rebel, knew, too. This was the same cursed court where top seeds like Pete Sampras and Serena Williams had suffered ignominious defeats, falling to unheralded players in the early rounds. Now Li, the former French Open champion and sixth-ranked player in the world, teetered one game away from a third-round loss to the Czech veteran Klara Zakopalova. “At that moment,” she told me later, “I suddenly saw myself with my bags going to the airport. It made my heart ache.”
For two hours, Li had struggled against her hard-hitting opponent. Trailing 5-6 in the third set, she walked to the baseline knowing that she had to break serve just to stay alive. Lose the next four points, and she might carry out her pretournament threat to quit the sport she had been forced to start playing nearly a quarter-century ago. Her spring season had been a bruising free fall from the heights of her second Australian Open final in January to her second-round flameout at the French Open in May. Now the graveyard was calling.
As Li crouched at the baseline, the cluster of Chinese fans waving little red flags went still. On the first serve, Li blasted a winner down the line. Five points later, she pounced on her first break-point opportunity, scorching a forehand winner — and letting out a scream — to even the set at 6-all. Two more games, another roar: Li had survived. It was just a third-round match, and she had played erratically. But after her recent run of defeats — marked by what appeared to be a lack of conviction at decisive moments — pulling out this victory felt redemptive. “I fought like mad,” she said with a grin. “Winning this match felt as good as getting to a Grand Slam final.”
One more obstacle awaited Li that afternoon. Walking into the press room in her sleek white sweatsuit, she looked warily at the assembled Chinese reporters. Her smile was pinched. China’s state-run media, which happily extols her victories for bringing glory to the motherland, had recently intensified its attacks on her streak of individualism, which has grown only stronger since she left the Chinese sports system in 2008. The furor began after her collapse at the French Open a month earlier, when a reporter for the government’s Xinhua news agency asked her to explain her disappointing result to her nation’s fans. “I lost a match and that’s it,” Li snapped. “Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them?” Her comment ignited a round of official criticism, rebuking her lack of patriotism and manners. Now, the very same reporter raised his hand to ask Li, once again, to address her fans. She glared at him for almost a full minute before mumbling, “I say, ‘Thank you, fans.’ ”
Li Na might prefer that we forget about China and judge her by her character and accomplishments alone. Hers, after all, is the tale of a conflicted working-class girl — the daughter of an athlete whose own dreams were thwarted by political strife — who rose to become one of the finest, richest and most influential players of her generation. All in a sport that most of her compatriots had never watched before.
A mercurial star who blends speed and power — and occasional meltdowns — Li became Asia’s first and only Grand Slam singles champion when she won the French Open in 2011. She is also the first Chinese-born player to crack the world’s Top Five — an elite group she rejoined last month after her run at Wimbledon. With nearly $40 million in sponsorship deals signed in the past three years, she is now the third-highest-compensated female athlete in any sport, trailing only Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.
Still, it is impossible to separate Li from China. She is one of the country’s biggest celebrities, with more than 21 million followers on the Twitter-like Weibo (by comparison, LeBron James has 9.4 million Twitter followers). A record 116 million Chinese viewers watched her triumph in the French Open, a bigger audience than the Super Bowl attracted that year. The tens of millions of dollars in endorsements that Li has collected depend on her connection to the Chinese market. Had she been born in Chile, Chad or even Chicago, she would not be one of the top three earners. Nor would the Women’s Tennis Association be unveiling a new pro tournament next year in her home city of Wuhan, in central China. Five years ago, the W.T.A. staged two tournaments in the country; in 2014, there will be eight. The W.T.A.’s chief executive, Stacey Allaster, credits Li with helping spark a tennis explosion in Asia. “If the Williams sisters had the greatest impact on the first decade of this century,” Allaster says, “then I would say, without a doubt, that Li Na will be the most important player of this decade.”
But even now, Li’s game is plagued by a maddening unpredictability — not unlike the W.T.A. in general, where a decade of relative instability at the top has led to a few players reaching No. 1 without winning a Grand Slam. (Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, was only the latest example.) This situation has prompted unfavorable, often unfair, comparisons with the men’s tour, which has been defined over the past decade by scintillating battles among four of history’s greatest players (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and now Andy Murray).
On the women’s side, the only truly dominating player this decade has been Serena Williams. Her return to the sport full time last year after being sidelined by injuries has re-established a more natural order in women’s tennis, with two Grand Slam winners, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, serving as her worthy, if not yet equal, adversaries. But Wimbledon blew that order into disarray — none of the four semifinalists had ever won a Grand Slam — and showed how erratic the women’s game can still be.
As the U.S. Open begins this week, Li senses an opportunity. At 31 years old, she still possesses great foot speed and thunderous ground-strokes, including what many consider to be the most cleanly struck backhand in the game. In the past, Li has tended to fade in the later majors from a lack of fitness and focus. (At the U.S. Open, she’s gotten to the quarterfinals only once, in 2009.) But this summer, after watching her at Wimbledon, I followed Li back to Beijing to witness up close her demanding midseason training regimen with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez. Li is making a big push to make the world’s Top 3 and to win another Grand Slam. “Anybody could win the U.S. Open this year,” Li said. “Why not me?”
Born in 1982, Li Na was, like many Chinese athletes, pushed into sports against her will. Her father — a former badminton player whose career had been cut short by the chaos of the Cultural Revolution — was the “sunshine of my childhood,” she said. Even so, he gave his daughter no choice when he enrolled her at age 5 in a local state-run sports school. Though she was a strong athlete, her shoulders were deemed too broad and her wrists not supple enough to excel at badminton. A coach persuaded her parents that she would have a better chance in a sport that few Chinese at that time had ever seen. “They all agreed that I should play tennis,” she said, “but nobody bothered to ask me.”
From the beginning, Li chafed at the harsh strictures of the state-run sports machine. China’s juguo tizhi — or “whole-nation sports system” — churns out champions by pushing young athletes to their limits every day for years on end. The first time Li defied her coach came at age 11, when, on the verge of collapse, she refused to continue training. Her punishment was to stand motionless in one spot during practices until she repented. Only after three days of standing did Li apologize. She continued training for her father’s sake — “His love was my source of strength,” she said — even though her coach never uttered a word of praise in their nine years together.
When she was 14, her father died of a rare cardiovascular disease. She was playing in a tournament in southern China at the time, and her coach didn’t tell her for several days, waiting until the competition was over. “It is my deepest pain that I did not make it to say goodbye to him,” Li wrote in her autobiography. Her mother sank into debt, and Li remembers being driven to win in tournaments so that she could earn small bonuses to fend off creditors.
Despite the turmoil, Li’s tennis flourished. Her first national junior title came just months after her father’s death. The following year, she was invited to a 10-month Nike-sponsored training program in Texas. After her return, she told an interviewer that she aimed to make the Top 10 in the world, and by early 2002, her goal actually seemed attainable: the 20-year-old was ranked No. 1 in China and had even climbed, at one point, into the world’s top 135. And then she disappeared.
Without telling any of her coaches, Li slipped out of the national training center one morning later that year. To avoid suspicion, Li said, she carried only a small bag of necessities. On the desk in her dorm room was a letter she had written to tennis authorities requesting an early retirement. The note didn’t elaborate on her reasons: the burnout from excessive training, the outrage at her coaches’ attempts to squelch her romance with a male teammate named Jiang Shan, and the debilitating period which the team leader wanted her to play through by taking hormone medicine.
Within hours, Li was in Wuhan with Jiang, planning their new life as university students. “As soon as I got home, I turned off my mobile and refused to take any phone calls,” Li later wrote. “Freedom was delicious.”
Tennis is infamous for tumultuous relationships, usually between parent and child star, coach and protégé. Li is now married to Jiang, a former Davis Cup player. Jiang became her first and only boyfriend at age 16. Romances between teammates were technically forbidden, but Jiang was Li’s refuge — first from the system, then from the vicissitudes of success and failure.
Over the years, Jiang has often served as Li’s coach — only to be demoted to the roles of sparring partner, cheerleader and punch line. In post-match interviews, Li likes to joke about Jiang’s snoring, his weight fluctuations, his control of the family credit card. The couple have been together so long — almost exactly half of Li’s life — that Rodriguez said, “They are not two people, but one person, fused together.” That doesn’t stop them from bickering in public. During an early-round match at Wimbledon, when Jiang exhorted her after a missed shot, she retorted in Mandarin, “You’re not my coach!”
Just hours before her fourth-round Wimbledon match with the 11th-seeded Roberta Vinci, Li seemed annoyed with her husband again. They were warming up on one of the practice courts. As Jiang hit an amped-up version of Vinci’s skidding slice backhand, Li looked out of sorts, netting backhands, lifting forehands long. At one point, Jiang whipped a shot past her and Li responded by angrily crushing a winner. “Sometimes,” she said later, arching an eyebrow, “I think my husband’s purpose is simply to make me unhappy.”
Once the match began, though, Li couldn’t miss. She handled Vinci’s slice with ease and breezed into the quarterfinals. “I felt so good I could’ve run for another three hours,” she said. Li had matched her deepest Wimbledon run, and with Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka gone, the highest seed left, at No. 4, was Li’s next opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she had beaten handily at the Australian Open in January.
The vibe in Li’s camp was so positive that nobody anticipated the attack on her that same day in People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. “When star athletes’ personalities have become insufferable by the standard of social customs and traditions” the editorial read, “who is to rein in their unchecked insolence?”
Despite China’s desire to have Li embody the country’s ambitions, she has made it clear that she plays for herself as much, if not more, than for her homeland. “When people say that I represent the nation,” she told me later, “that is too big a hat for me to wear.” Li’s independent streak is part of what makes her resonate deeply with China’s younger generation, who have nicknamed her Big Sister Na. But for the country’s leaders (be they national, athletic or media), this is a fundamental challenge to the way the Chinese Communist Party has rallied its subjects for 64 years.
Li said she didn’t see the People’s Daily editorial. Rodriguez forbids her, as best he can, from reading media coverage during tournaments, and Jiang acts as sentry to shield her from articles that might affect her mood. Still, when the coverage stings, Jiang tries to soothe her. “We Chinese have a saying: ‘For any hero, half will compliment, half will slander,’ ” he said. “I tell her to forget the attacks, the pressure, the expectations. But it’s hard to forget. We’re only human.”
Li tried to be lighthearted when I asked her about the Chinese press: “In the past, I used to be really bothered by [bad stories]. Now I just think that perhaps [the Chinese media] think that I’m not famous enough, so they want to help me out.” Her laugh sounded hollow.
Li has become a lightning rod in China, provoking a conversation about the role of freedom — and patriotism — in sports and society. When the editorial came out, her fans angrily defended her right to be herself in an online debate that consumed Chinese microblogs. “At the beginning, I would be affected by everybody’s expectations, but I came to realize that people were just projecting their own dreams onto me,” she said. “I’m not a saint. I, too, am an ordinary person. I have my ups and downs. So all I can do is focus on doing my job well.” She added: “I really, truly think that I am just an athlete. I can represent nothing but myself.”
More than a year into what Li calls her “first retirement,” in 2003, the new head of China’s state tennis program, a former volleyball star named Sun Jinfang, visited her in Wuhan. As Li remembered the meeting, Sun said: “I have heard from many people that there was a Li Na who played very well, but she suddenly quit. So I decided to come see for myself.” At 22, Li was reveling in the joys of ordinary life for the first time: taking university classes in journalism, freely pursuing her relationship with Jiang, even playing a stint of intramural tennis with classmates who had no idea who she was.
“Why don’t you play for yourself?” Sun asked her. The questions surprised Li. No other official had ever spoken to her this way. But it wasn’t clear what “playing for yourself” meant in a system that managed every aspect of players’ lives — from dictating the coaching, training and tournament schedule to taking 65 percent of players’ earnings. Even so, in early 2004, Li put her academic plans on hold (she would eventually graduate five years later) and headed back to the court, unencumbered by a W.T.A. ranking or outsize expectations.
That year, she became the first Chinese player to claim a W.T.A. title by winning a tournament in Guangzhou as a qualifier. By 2006, she had climbed into the Top 25 in the world, but to break into the Top 10, Li believed she needed the freedom to manage her own career, something only a few Chinese athletes, such as the former N.B.A. star Yao Ming, had ever been offered. That freedom wouldn’t be granted before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the pride-fest in which the supremacy of the Chinese sports system — its 51 gold medals topped the Americans’ 36 — was meant to mirror the rise of the nation.
With a Chinese flag affixed to her red Nike outfit, Li made an unexpected run to the semifinals, seemingly untroubled by the knee surgery she had undergone just months before. The local fans cheered her so wildly — even in the middle of points — that at one stage she yelled, “Shut up!” Li regretted the outburst, but reflected later: “Chinese people needed a victory so badly to prove ourselves. I used to think tennis was simply a sport, but the craziness of that match made me realize that it was endowed with meanings that are far more significant.”
Once the Games ended, Li said she issued Sun an ultimatum: “I told her, ‘If I have no freedom, I’m going to quit.’ ” Another young player, Peng Shuai, had been making similar demands. Whether to avert the desertion of her top stars or to help them realize their potential (as it was later presented), Sun soon introduced a policy called danfei, or “fly solo.” Under the new rules, Li, Peng and two others would still have obligations to the national and provincial teams, but they would be allowed to hire their own coaches, set their own schedules and keep a far greater percentage of their earnings. Instead of giving 65 percent of her income back to the federation and her provincial team, Li now pays between 8 and 12 percent, even as she bears the cost of travel, training and coaching. For China — and for Li’s career — this was a radical change.
Flying solo was scary at first. “Jiang Shan and I made plans for the worst-case scenario, where our savings would be reduced to zero,” Li said. She’d never had to deal with the minutiae of finances or logistics before, since the state had done everything for her. But the benefits soon became indisputable. In 2010, with Jiang as her coach, Li reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and broke into the world’s Top 10 for the first time — just as she had vowed so improbably a decade before. A year later, she swept all the way to the Australian final, charming fans with her verbal volleys as well as her groundstrokes. Asked to describe what motivated her back-from-the-dead semifinal victory over top-seeded Wozniacki, she said: “Prize money.”
The date that changed everything for Li — and for the global landscape of tennis — was June 4, 2011. There were no memorials in China that day for the protesting students who were massacred around Tiananmen Square exactly 22 years earlier. But 116 million Chinese fans — nearly double the population of France — gathered around their television sets to watch Li defeat the defending champion, Francesca Schiavone, for the French Open title. “Li Na, we love you!” read the banner on the screen of national broadcaster CCTV, while a presenter raved: “A miracle, a breakthrough, a first in more than 100 years of tennis!” The Chinese Web site Sohu Sports calculated that the victory would net Li 234 times the annual earnings of an average Chinese worker. “But she absolutely deserves it!”
Stunned by the size of the Chinese audience, the W.T.A. ramped up its plans for expanding its presence in Asia while top brands rushed to sign endorsement deals with Li. With Rolex and Nike already signed up, her agent, IMG’s Max Eisenbud (who also represents Sharapova), struck multiyear deals with Mercedes-Benz, Samsung and Häagen-Dazs, among others, pushing Li’s total annual earnings to more than $18 million.
But fame and fortune seemed to disorient Li. She lost early in nearly every other event that year, and failed to make the quarterfinals in six consecutive majors. Last summer, at her request, Eisenbud put together a list of coaches from which she could choose. One of them was Carlos Rodriguez, an Argentine who had guided Justine Henin her entire career, including 117 weeks as world No. 1, and had recently opened a tennis academy in Beijing. “I told Max immediately, ‘Him, him!’ ” Li recalled. “I thought if he could make Justine a champion. …” She made the Montreal finals the first week they worked together in August 2012, and then won the Masters in Cincinnati the following week, her first tournament victory in 15 months.
On a muggy afternoon this past July, Li Na’s quads were burning. It wasn’t the heat, exactly, though the temperature at her training base in Beijing hovered around 94 degrees. Nor was it the torturous workout she’d endured so far: half an hour of running, jumping and agility drills; an hour of rapid-fire core and upper-body training in the gym; then two 90-minute sessions on court, honing her fitness and footwork — and an attacking game she is sharpening for the U.S. Open.
The burning sensation came from the deep sand Li was churning underfoot — part of a beach-volleyball court that Rodriguez has turned into a terrain of pain at his sprawling tennis academy called Potter’s Wheel. For 45 minutes, Rodriguez pushed her through a series of lunging exercises in the sand pit, giving her only 30 seconds of rest in between (not coincidentally, almost the same amount of time a tennis player is allowed between points). The day before, during a timed cycling session, Li had screamed, “I’m on the verge of dying!” Today, after a set of lunging volleys in the sand pit, she bent over her aching legs, her entire body soaked in sweat, and exclaimed, “Now I think I’m actually dying.”
At 5 feet 8 inches tall and 143 pounds, Li has an almost perfect body for tennis: agile feet, piston-like legs and a sculptured core and upper torso. “I’m as fast and strong as I’ve ever been,” Li said earlier that day, as she hunched over a full plate of rice, eggplant, pork and tofu at the academy’s cafeteria. “It just takes me longer to recover than when I was younger.” As Li finished off her food, Jiang dumped several spoonfuls of a high-energy protein powder into a bottle of water and shook it vigorously. “It tastes terrible, but I have to drink it every day,” she said, grimacing as she forced it down.
The dozens of young tennis players eating at the tables around us were under strict orders not to bother Li. But a trio of boys, 12 or 13 years old, kept sauntering by, stealing glances at the small stud earrings that ringed Li’s upper lobe and her tanned forearms, glaring white strips marking where her wristbands normally were. (The rose tattoo on Li’s chest, which caused such a controversy in China when she got it at age 19 that she covered it up during televised matches, was hidden under her T-shirt today.) After she cleared her tray, separating plates and utensils just like all the other players, one of the boys sidled up to her. Li smiled and posed for a photo, but there was little small talk. She only wanted to get to her dorm room upstairs for a quick nap before another grueling afternoon with her coach.
Rodriguez is the ultimate guru, with an intellectual approach to the physical and psychological aspects of the game. Despite his gentle demeanor, his training regimen is so relentless that when Li began in earnest last winter, she told Jiang: “How did Justine continue with Carlos for 15 years? I was ready to die after just three days.” Returning midseason to this kind of training, Rodriguez believes, will help Li avoid a late-season slide.”Li Na has the resources for two more years at the top,” Rodriguez said. “The only question mark will be her motivation at the end of the season.”
For now, at least, Li seems invigorated to be adding new dimensions to her game. At one point during practice, Rodriguez had Li stand on one leg on a wobbly pedestal near the net, cracking volleys without losing her balance. Coming to the net behind forceful approaches, Rodriguez says, will help her end points more quickly (key for a veteran) and add an element of surprise. “I was reluctant at first,” Li said. “But if I don’t try it now, perhaps I’d regret it when I retire. As Carlos told me, ‘Without trying, you’ll never know how good you can be.’ ”
A glimpse of that future may have come on Wimbledon’s Center Court, during Li’s quarterfinal match against Radwanska. Her net-rushing tactics earned Li four set points in the opener. She served an ace on one of them, but when it was called out, she neglected to challenge, and the set went to the Polish player. Li battled back to win the second set before finally succumbing in the third. When a reporter asked Li if she wanted to know the correct call on the serve that would have won her the set — and perhaps the match — she stared in disbelief. “Was it in?” she asked.
Still, Li had a right to seem upbeat afterward. This was the first time since 2010 that she had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon — fulfilling a goal that Rodriguez had set for her — and the lifelong baseliner charged the net an astonishing 71 times in the quarterfinal match, winning 48 of those points. “Many people maybe thought I was mad, coming up to the net again and again,” she said. “But I’m glad I was brave enough to try something new.”
Sinking into her white Mercedes coupe after a day of training, Li Na craved one thing above all: a massage. The manicure, the shopping, the spicy Sichuan meal: all those little luxuries would have to wait while her aching body got pounded and kneaded back into some semblance of normalcy. “When I was growing up, I never got a massage, never needed one,” Li said, as Jiang maneuvered into Beijing’s snarled late-afternoon traffic. “But now, anything less than a 90-minute massage and I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.”
From the car, Li rang up the spa at their five-star hotel and was told that the early-evening slots were all booked. It would have been easy for Li to mention her name, but she enjoys a little anonymity, especially in China. Their suite was registered under a pseudonym, so she left the spa their room number. “Yesterday, the receptionist said, ‘You know, you look a bit like that tennis player.’ Later, when she found out, she said: ‘No way! But you’re so skinny in person!’ ” Li threw her head back and laughed.
The question of retirement looms over Li. Among the world’s Top 30, only Serena Williams is older — by five months. Relaxing on a rumpled single bed in her dorm room at Rodriguez’s academy, Li laughed when the subject of age came up. “I didn’t like tennis for the first 15 years I played,” she said, as Jiang, carrying an armful of dirty clothes, asked if there was any more laundry for him to do. “But now, when I’m finally at a stage where I’m enjoying my tennis life, everybody keeps asking me when I’m going to leave.”
Age may be a subject Li avoids, but she makes no secret about wanting children — and becoming “a housewife trailing after my husband.” The couple recently began renovating their three-story villa in Wuhan, where her mother and his parents still live. While Li trained in Beijing, Jiang flew down to shop for curtains and light fixtures, e-mailing her photos for approval. (When Li objected to the $10,000 price tag on one designer fixture, Jiang replied that it was the cheapest one he’d been shown.) If motherhood comes, Li is adamant that her offspring would not pursue a tennis career. “It’s too painful,” she said.
In the state-run Chinese system, Li “never heard a single positive word in a decade or more,” Rodriguez told me, noting that she can still turn that negativity, at low moments, into a corrosive form of self-loathing. Henin was once psychologically fragile, too, he said. But he worked with her from age 13; Li, at 31, has a fully formed character shaped, in large part, by the Chinese sports system and her reaction to it. “When I ask how she’s doing, she almost never mentions anything good. I have to force her to tell me also what she is doing right.”
Rodriguez’s probing into Li’s feelings has provoked greater discomfort than his demanding workouts. In all her years in China, no coach ever asked Li about them. But Rodriguez pushes her to express herself so that her innermost thoughts — and the experiences that shaped them — can be dealt with. “All of her sad memories and experiences are imprinted on her,” Rodriguez said. “They can never be erased, but she has to acknowledge that they have also helped forge her into the person and player she is.” The process, Li told me, “felt like spreading salt over a wound at first. It has been hard and painful, but once I spill things out, Carlos can help me find ways to get over it. He’s made me much stronger mentally.”
Just days before Wimbledon began, Li vowed to quit in anger when she lost early — her tailspin continuing — at a warm-up tournament in Eastbourne. To her surprise, Rodriguez agreed. “Everybody always says, ‘No, no, Li Na, don’t quit,’ ” he recalled. “I told her: ‘Fine, you can quit. Stop playing if that’s what you feel. But if you’re quitting because you didn’t like what happened today, have some courage. This is just a game, but you can’t continue to run away from your problems. They’ll follow you until the end of your life.’ ” Shaken by his words, Li agreed to train hard for Wimbledon. “At Wimbledon, we started to see a different person emerge — more relaxed, more positive,” Rodriguez said. “Now I think she’s hungry for more.”
By the time her three weeks of training ended in late July, Li seemed primed, physically and mentally, for the hard-court season leading up to this week’s U.S. Open. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, and that unpredictability is part of what makes Li so intriguing. She still aims to win another Grand Slam, and she’s doing everything she can in the time she has left on court to make that happen. But under Rodriguez’s guidance, she now seems motivated less by pride and prize money than by the desire to leave the game on her own terms, with no regrets. “I know I can’t win every match,” she said. “But as long as I’ve gone through this difficulty, this process, all I need to do is try my best. Then I can be happy, whether I win or lose.”
Brook Larmer last wrote for the magazine about young Chinese golfers. He is the author of “Operation Yao Ming.”
Editor: Claire Gutierrez
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 26, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified the city in Canada where the 2012 Rogers Cup tournament was held. The cup, which alternates locations, was played in Montreal that year, not in Toronto.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 28, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified the medication that Li Na felt pressured to take in 2002. It was hormone medicine used to play through a debilitating period, not steroid pills. And the article misidentified the person who pressured her to take the medicine. It was her team leader, not her head coach.