Li Na wins the 2014 Australian Open title. Photos: 163.com
Li Na, the 31-year-old female tennis player from China who had lost two finals in Melbourne before, claimed her first Australian Open title on January 25, with a 7-6(3) 6-0 win over Dominika Cibulkova in the final. However, Li’s achievement is not confined to winning the championship.
Li Na and her team
Professional sports, as opposed to amateur sports, are sports in which athletes receive payment for their performance. Different from China’s state system, professional sports are market-oriented, which means every athlete must have a professional team behind him or her. Li Na is no exception. According to insiders, the annual expenses of Li’s team are estimated at $1million at least, including transportation, accommodation, massages, rent for training venues and staff salaries. The salary of Carlos Rodriguez, her coach, alone exceeded $570,000 last year.
However, Li’s team earns much more than they spend. Winning the Australian Open brought her a $2.3 million check, exceeding her total bonus in 2012. Her bonus was $3.7 million in 2011 and $3.98 million in 2013. Her bonus is expected to hit a new record in 2014 because it is already getting closer to $2.5 million now after playing in Shenzhen and Australia. By now, Li has earned a total bonus of $15.71 million in her professional career, which makes her the 16th female tennis player of the “Fifteen Million Club” in the world.
In addition, Li’s success in transforming from a tennis star into a commercial celebrity, to a large extent, can be attributed to her manager—Max Eisenbud, vice president of the IMG. The IMG signed Li in 2009 when she was 27. While at that age it was already too late for an athlete, especially a tennis player, Eisenbud firmly believed she would surpass Maria Sharapova and become the second richest female tennis player in the world.
Eisenbud cried after Li won the French Open on June 4, 2011. Within a few weeks, he succeeded in getting seven advertising contracts worth $48 million. Now Li has endorsement contracts with 13 international brands, such as Nike, Babolat and Rolex, surpassing Liu Xiang and Yao Ming and setting a new record in advertising.