Wuhan: China's Li Na said her ground-breaking career can be traced back to the death of her father when she was 14, a pivotal moment which meant tennis success was her "only chance".

Li Na while announcing her retirement
Li Na while announcing her retirement 

Li, in candid comments following her shock retirement last week, said she had to grow up quickly when left to support her mother, a realisation which shaped her life.

"I think I was a pretty normal girl in the way I grew up (but) what totally changed my life was when my father passed away," she told AFP in an interview days after she tearfully called it quits over persistent knee injuries.

The demise sowed the seeds of a career which yielded two Grand Slam titles and brought tennis to China's masses.

Li made special mention of her father in her retirement statement last week, saying: "You've remained the sunshine in my life and I am who I am because of you."