|Li's winning personality brings endorsements|
As the first Chinese tennis player to win the French Open in June, Li will also become the world's second-highest-earning female athlete after signing endorsement contracts worth at least $42 million.
The 29-year-old has signed seven deals, each worth between $2 million and $3.5 million, each contract lasting three years.
Russian Maria Sharapova is the top earner at $24 million a year in prize money and endorsements. She and Li share the same agent, Max Eisenbud.
Li's contracts include Mercedes-Benz, Chinese insurance company Taikang Life Insurance Co and Nike.
She has also signed a deal with a Chinese real estate company that will help her build a tennis academy with details yet to be released.
According to marketing experts, foreign brands are still keen to break into the Chinese market and Li may be just the ticket.
"Her appeal is that she has the ability to crack the Chinese market, which is such an important and hard market for American and European brands to get into, or to establish a foothold," explained Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brand Rapport. "The holy grail of marketing on a global scale is to crack the Chinese market."
Experts in China say Yao Ming's recent retirement also means there's lots of opportunity for sponsorship with the country's dearth of hot star athletes at the moment.
|Li was the first Chinese to win at the French Open|
By the same token, Li has broken through the state-controlled sports system and is now able to determine her own career path as well as keep most of her earnings.
Wu Rongzhao, chief executive of China Hongxing Sports, a sportswear maker on the mainland, believes Li's ability to break through a non-traditional Chinese sport gives her even more appeal.
"It gives [Chinese] consumers a taste of global success. Now it is important to associate your products with a global taste in order to win customers," he said.
After Li reached the Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, she already got sponsorships from Rolex, Haagen-Daz and Chinese website Sina.
This may inspire more young people in China to take up tennis, but they will quickly learn how hard it is to climb to the top.