Li Na: 'Housework is harder than pro tennis'

    Story highlights

    • Two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na announced her retirement in 2014
    • She wants to encourage future Chinese tennis players through an academy
    • Li and her husband Dennis are expecting their first child in the summer
    • She tips Petra Kvitova to succeed her as Australian Open champion

    (CNN)This time last year, Li Na was at the center of the tennis universe as she won her second grand slam title at the Australian Open.

    Twelve months on, the former world No. 2 is facing a whole new challenge -- getting to grips with the vacuum cleaner.
      Persistent and worsening knee problems forced her to retire in September at the age of 32, and she admits the transition from tennis star to domestic goddess has been challenging.
      "I do the house cleaning. Before, when I was traveling, I thought it was all pretty easy. And now I have to do all these things I think tennis is much easier," she told CNN's Open Court.
      Luckily for Li, she can count on the support of her husband Dennis, with whom she is expecting her first child this summer.
      "Family for me is most important thing," she said, two days before announcing her pregnancy on the opening day of the year's first grand slam.
      "I'm starting to learn how to cook -- before, I never had the time or the chance. Now sometimes I say: 'Hey Dennis -- I always do the house cleaning, you have to do some cooking.' He's a little bit like: 'Hey, I'm the man -- why should I do this?'
      Li, China's most successful tennis export, became Asia's first grand slam singles champion at the 2011 French Open before adding another title with that victory in Melbourne last year.
      But she says she'll be happy for all that to be forgotten if she can help usher through a new generation of Chinese tennis stars.
      "I will try to have a tennis academy to help more young children," she explains. "When I said I would retire and said I wanted a tennis academy, everyone in China invited me.
      "But I have to find the right one, of course, in a big city, and to have communication with the government."
      From what she has seen so far, lack of belief shouldn't be a problem when it comes to the nation's promising youngsters.
      "I hear people say: 'Oh, my daughter is 10 times better than Li Na,' she smiles. "I like this confidence. At least they have a goal."
      And if she succeeds in her aim of encouraging fresh talent, Li -- who won a total of nine WTA titles -- says she wants people's memories of her outstanding career to fade quietly away.
      "Honestly, I would like the world to forget me," she adds. "Because, if they always remember me, that will mean that Chinese tennis hasn't grown up. I wish that a lot of young or new players will come up and people will say: 'Oh, this is a Chinese player.'"
      But she admits leaving her own career behind was a very hard step to take, describing the decision to quit as "pretty sad."
      It was also inevitable.
      "My knee couldn't handle it any more," she adds. "I think it was after Wimbledon that I saw the knee was getting even worse.
      "At the end of July, I had to have my fourth operation. I tried to recover, but didn't do very well.
      "Women's tennis now is pretty tough, and everyone is much stronger. So if I couldn't stay healthy, I couldn't play at the highest level. If you're a professional athlete, you always want to win all of them [matches]. You never want to lose on court."
      After all those years on the tour -- she turned professional in 1999 -- Li is slowly getting used to the idea of spending more time at leisure and less jetting from country to country.
      But she will never take her eyes off what is happening in the tennis world, and is watching the continuing progress of Japanese star Kei Nishikori with increasing interest.
      "I think he's doing amazingly," she adds. "Last year, in the U.S. Open, he was pretty close to the trophy."
      She hopes the Japanese star's success will also inspire the men's game in China. "He's doing well, but he's not so tall or so strong. People can think: 'He's not a western player,' and maybe men players [in China] can think we could do the same or even better."
      And as she settles down to watch her first Australian Open for years as a spectator rather than a participant, who does Li feel might take the title that her retirement has left her unable to defend?
      "I think maybe [Wimbledon champion] Petra Kvitova," she says, backing her best friend on the tour. "I like the way she hits." But -- as if we really needed warning -- don't write off Serena Williams. "If she wants to win, she can win."
      Whoever lifts the trophy, it might inspire Li -- knees permitting, of course -- to get back out on court and start hitting a few shots. There will be no glory this time, though, and no fans: all future games will be strictly for fun.
      After all, as she says, you can't totally leave something that has been so central to your world behind.
      "Tennis is my life," she concludes. "I grew up with tennis, and everything I know is from tennis."