Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When Li Na headed to Indian Wells this week, she did so as the top seed. But she wants to be at the top of another list ... the world rankings.
Li was the beneficiary when Serena Williams decided against playing in the California desert this week - a decision that meant Li would be the player to beat at the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The 2014 Australian Open champion and 2011 French Open titlist hopes she can eventually overtake Serena and become the first-ever Asian No. 1 in tennis history. She's already the first and only Grand Slam singles champ from Asia and was the first-ever Asian player to land in a major singles final, which she accomplished at the 2011 Australian Open.
Note: Li's late father, Li Shengpeng, was a former professional badminton player who died when she was 14.
It's a milestone week for the 32-year-old Li, who's at the top of the draw at a WTA Premier Mandatory event for the first time in her historic career.
The Chinese star, who has opened up about her life in an autobiography, has played in just one tournament since capturing the Aussie Open in January, and that resulted in a third-round loss at the Qatar Open in the middle of February. She's spent time at home in Wuhan celebrating the Chinese New Year, and trekked to her training base in Munich to consult with the doctors who helped rehabilitate a knee injury.
Returning to action wasn't easy for the busy star.
"I think after you win a big title, I have the same feeling as when I come back from vacation. I'm like, 'Why should you come back? Why should you continue? Go rest!'" she said, laughing. "The first training is always tough because you fight against yourself. Because I just made one goal and the next goal is waiting for me. I have to prove myself."
Li's next goal is to win the French Open for a second time this spring. She just turned 32 last week, but isn't even close to thinking about the "R" word ... retirement.
"For goals, I never put a time frame on it," she said. "I wish I can improve my ranking, but not for this year. Maybe it's a goal for the next two years."
The world No. 2 is currently 5,865 rankings points behind Serena, which might not mean a lot to most, but that's a pretty big margin. If she's ever going to reach the top spot, it probably wouldn't be this year.
Believe it or not, Li said in her book that she wrestles with severe self- doubt, which she blames on the Chinese tennis system, and, more specifically, Chinese culture in general.
"I'm a product of the Chinese style of education, which has led me to hesitate before making any decisions, to lack confidence, to not dare to speak up and to constantly calculate what the result of my action will be," she wrote. "What I hate most is my lack of self-confidence when I'm playing tennis."
Could've fooled us!
Note: Li has reached at least the semifinals at all the Grand Slam events, with the exception of Wimbledon (quarterfinals in 2006, 2010 and 2013).
Li has appeared in two finals in three tournaments this season, which she opened up by going 13-0, including a title in Shenzhen in her native land in January.
Will she title at Indian Wells next weekend? Well, she's never reached a final there, but she doesn't have Serena to contend with, Victoria Azarenka is on the mend from a foot injury and Maria Sharapova is still trying to find her game after battling yet another shoulder problem.
Did You Know?: Li, with more than $18 million earned last year, was the third- highest paid female athlete in 2013, coming in behind her fellow racquet stars Sharapova ($29 million) and Serena ($20.5 million). The Chinese slugger took home roughly $15 million in endorsement money.
Another thing we know about the always-quotable Li is that she's one of the most compelling personalities in tennis.