The tennis star is more than a global sports icon—she inspires millions of Chinese as a symbol of independence and freedom
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It’s a hazy Sunday afternoon, and we’re standing in a parched field off Beijing’s Second Airport Expressway. Next to a sewage ditch, couples in wedding dresses and tuxedos breathe in car exhaust while posing among wildflowers. It isn’t the most romantic of settings, but pastoral backdrops are hard to come by in China’s capital. Nearby, unbeknownst to the lovebirds, another photo shoot is taking place: Li Na, the world’s second-ranked women’s tennis player after the U.S.’s Serena Williams, is teetering on high heels, her hair styled into a kind of postcoital tease. The tennis champion tries to lean seductively against a car, but her attempt at a sexy pout keeps getting eclipsed by an irrepressible grin.