BEIJING - Pioneering Chinese tennis star Li Na says she has "no regrets" about her decision to retire over persistent knee injuries, but told an emotional news conference that she reached the decision only after thinking long and hard.
The two-time Grand Slam winner made her first public remarks yesterday, after she announced her shock retirement via social media on Friday.
"I'm very satisfied with my tennis career," the 32-year-old Li said at a news conference at China's National Tennis Centre.
"I feel this is the best time for me to retire. I don't feel sorry or have any regrets about retiring. When I was making this decision, I asked myself, 'If I retire, will I regret it?'
"My heart told me I wouldn't, because I've done my best."
The event was an emotional one for both Li and the nearly 200 journalists who attended her farewell.
At one point, a Chinese journalist raised his hand to ask a question, but then suddenly went silent before breaking down into tears.
Li responded with her characteristic wit.
"Here, take this," she said, holding out a tissue from her seat at the podium, and holding back tears of her own.
Li's announcement came just seven months after she lifted the Australian Open title, one of her career highlights following her historic French Open win of 2011.
In postings on Facebook and Chinese social media on Friday, she wrote that "after four knee operations and hundreds of shots injected into my knee weekly to alleviate swelling and pain, my body is begging me to stop the pounding".
Yesterday, as she ended a career that has brought her nine titles and introduced tennis to the masses in China, she maintained that she has "done no great thing".
"I want to tell everyone - because everyone has his or her own dream - you must keep pursuing your dream," she said.
The next Li Na may arrive "at any moment", she added.
"Just keep an eye out," she said. "The next player will be even better than me."
Russian star Maria Sharapova, playing at the US$2.4 million (S$3 million) Wuhan Open in Li's home town, led the tributes to the Chinese yesterday.
"It is a very big loss for tennis in general all around the world, and specifically here in China where Li Na has been so influential for so many years," she said.
"She can look back on her career with a big smile on her face."