Although Maria Sharapove may be the highest earning female sport star in the world few would know that the second richest is Li Na, the world No. 7 women’s tennis player and winner of a single grand slam title in a 13-year career.
But that surprise victory at the French Open almost a year ago transformed Li into one of the world’s most marketable athletes. According to Forbes.com, she earned $18 million to April 2012 (up $10 million from 2011) — $8 million shy of Sharapova’s total but $5 million more than third-placed Serena Williams.
So why are brands scrambling to associate with Li, who will defend her title at Roland Garros when the clay-court major starts on Sunday??? “Two words: She’s Chinese,” says Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University Business School in Britain.”Li Na is out there on her own, firstly in terms of being a female Chinese sportsperson and secondly in terms of her international profile and success.”
With a great deal of capital behind her a successful defence of her French open title in Paris would surely propel her into superstardom. He agent believed that last year’s victory represented a ‘win that was a lot bigger than tennis.” Reports suggest that as a result of her victory the sport of tennis has seen exponential growth in China with young children desperate to learn the game to emulate their hero Na Li. A successful tournament at Wimbledon and the 30 year old may well become a global brand not just a Chinese sporting hero. Either way her success is good for tennis