26 October 2016
Dennis Jiang (inset) took a lot of grief in his unwavering support of his wife, Li Na. Photos:
Dennis Jiang (inset) took a lot of grief in his unwavering support of his wife, Li Na. Photos:

Who deserves to play Li Na’s husband in the movie?

A contest is on among mainland A-list movie stars Tang Wei, Zhao Wei, Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing and even Hong Kong’s Isabella Leong Lok-si to play China’s national tennis icon in the upcoming movie Li Na: My Life.

But it is almost equally important to get the right actor to play her husband, Dennis Jiang Shan.

That is not just because behind every successful woman is a man — Jiang was a role model in how he tamed a tiger and withstood the emotional roller-coaster that accompanied her rise to world fame.

Li, once the world’s No. 2 female tennis player after winning the French Open and Australian Open, was notoriously bad-tempered when she was competing in top matches.

Her husband took her curses and served as her emotional punching bag so she could focus on her game.

Only a few saints with an exceptionally high EQ or a hearing problem could do a better job than Jiang, as any married man can testify.

Famous Hong Kong director Peter Chan Ho-sun, who will helm Li’s biopic this autumn for release next year, told The Hollywood Reporter what made her so special.

“The story between her and her husband is very atypical; in fact a lot of things with Li Na are very atypical for Chinese people. It shows a very different side of contemporary China,” Chan said.

“She broke rules and defied conventions and, against all odds, became a legend.”

Li has had a colorful, movie-like life and sports career.

She picked up badminton at age six because her father, Li Shengpeng, was a badminton player, then changed to tennis at age eight.

When she was 14, her father died, but her mother did not tell her until weeks later, because she did not want to affect the girl’s game.

In 2006, Li married Jiang, her personal coach, and left the national team two years later to pursue her own goals.

The 32-year-old tennis superstar retired in September last year because of chronic knee problems.

In January, Li said she is expecting her first baby this summer.

Li knew she could not control her emotions on the court.

In one of her famous post-match speeches, after losing to Kim Clijsters in a tough three-set final, she gave an unexpected tribute to Jiang.

“I made a lot of jokes [about you], but it doesn’t matter if you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly, I’ll always follow you and always love you,” Li said.

When she won the Australian Open last year, she acknowledged all the sacrifices her husband had made, giving up everything to follow her around.

“You’re a nice guy,” she said. “And also, you’re so lucky, you [found] me.”

Don’t you look forward to China’s first sports movie?

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EJ Insight writer

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