• Chinese tennis superstar Li Na was born and raised in the city of Wuhan.

Chinese tennis superstar Li Na was born and raised in the city of Wuhan. (Photo : Reuters)

As part of the yearly China's Central Television (CCTV) Sports Personality Awards on Sunday, retired tennis superstar Li Na was recognized as the country's Best Female Athlete.

Li, who was 32 years old when she retired, also won the Sports Special Contribution accolade. Swimmer Ning Zetao won the male version of the top honor, the Best Male Athlete award.

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Li is a native of Wuhan in the Hubei Province, born there in Feb. 1982, and commenced her life-changing relationship with the game of tennis when she was seven years of age.

Her tennis career began seven years later during early adolescence, but she was unable to fit into the state training system and left the national team in 2002.

However, the most significant issue was to arise later, as she received a ban from Chinese sports officials due to her romantic interest in Jiang Shan, who eventually became both her husband and coach.

Jiang was courtside in Melbourne, Australia, at the 2011 Australian Open, where a BBC China correspondent proclaimed: "At long last China can boast of a tennis player in a Grand Slam final." Li had just defeated the world number-one player at the time, Caroline Wozniacki, a historic win that flooded the media in China.

Li would eventually win the Australian Grand Slam in 2014, which joined her 2011 French Open title and cemented her national hero status.

But the tremendous toll of four knee surgeries became overwhelming for the athlete, and in her heartfelt public letter of resignation, published on Facebook in September last year, she explained that "my body is begging me to stop the pounding." According to Li, the career-ending decision was made over an agonizing three-month period.

The list of winners on Sunday also included female skater Zhang Hong, who won Best Breakthrough of the Year; Chen Shiwei, Xie Zhenye, Su Bingtian and Zhang Peimeng, who won the Best Relay/Pair of the Year; Jenny Lang Ping and the national women's volleyball team won the Best Coach of the Year and Best Team of the Year, respectively; 18-year-old Yuan Xinyue received the Best Rookie award; and Chen Penbin was awarded the Non-Olympic Athlete of the Year honor.