Updated: 01/18/2014 02:24 | By Agence France-Presse

Tough being a role model, says China's Li

Tennis trailblazer Li Na has won millions of young fans who follow her every move, but the 31-year-old admitted it was sometimes tough dealing with the pressure of being a role model.


Tough being a role model, says China's Li

Li Na of China signs autographes following her win over Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic during their women's singles match at the 2014 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 17, 2014 - by William West

As Asia's first major tennis star, Li now has more than 10 million fans on Chinese social media and featured on the cover of TIME magazine's 2013 list of the world's most influential people.

Over the years she has earned a reputation as a maverick and a prickly character in China, a nation where state-trained sports stars typically keep their emotions strictly in check.

Li opted out of government control in 2008, enabling her to choose her own coaches and keep most of her winnings.

However, she admitted it is not always easy to set a good example for her fans.

"Now I feel a lot of pressure, you know, because so many children, they look up to you, what you do on the court, off the court," she said, after reaching the Australian Open fourth round.

"So right now I really play tennis for myself. I cannot say a bad word, otherwise children will copy me. So many bad things I cannot do," she smiled.

Li is under intense scrutiny from Chinese media, to the extent that she said this week that it almost caused her to quit during a difficult run last year.

But the 2011 French Open champion said behaving herself in public had now become a way of life.

"Sometimes we go to a party, we have a drink or something. The next day they put in newspaper, 'She likes to drink', but they didn't put the situation," she said.

"So, yeah, after I read the newspaper, I said, 'Okay, I can't even drink when I'm at a party'. I said, 'Okay, only water, healthy'."

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