Li Na of China serves to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during round robin play of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships Istanbul at the Sinan Erdem Dome on October 27, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.
China's French Open tennis champion Li Na is writing a memoir to tell the story of, as the book's title claims, "How to Go West and Win".
Penguin will co-publish the book in Chinese in spring 2012 with a Chinese partner - a first for the British company whose business in China up to now has focused on importing English titles and exporting translations.
However, it is not the first time for foreign publishers to take interest in a Chinese sports star. Seven years ago, Chinese basketball player Yao Ming's biography "A life in two worlds" was published in the United States by Miramax.
Just like Yao and Li, a new generation of Chinese sports elite are now helping to raise the country's profile in the world. As sports is a universal language, the Chinese sports stars are the best cultural ambassadors to help the world know more about China.
Yao is definitely a pioneer for helping China open up. The 2.26-meter giant, with the combination of strength, height, skills, as well as his global celebrity, is the perfect sport icon to represent the growth and global status of an emerging China, while his humor, modesty and tolerance shown in the game, has impressed the world and helped resolve misunderstandings across different cultures.
The Shanghai native, labeled as China's biggest export to the United States, played for eight seasons in the NBA after being the top overall pick in the 2002 draft, and announced his retirement in July.
He averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds and has been named in the NBA All-Star team eight times. Yao made the cover story of the Asian Edition of Time Magazine twice, and was selected by the magazine as one of its "100 most influential people in the world today" twice.
Three-time All-Star and former Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis has called Yao a "pioneer" in bridging the U.S. and Chinese basketball cultures.
"Yao was the first Chinese basketball player to break the barrier to come to the U.S. to play basketball and won respect, and Yao's case enabled other Chinese players to follow suit," said Francis.
"Yao has been a transformational player and a testament to the globalization of our game.
"His dominant play and endearing demeanor along with his extensive humanitarian efforts have made him an international fan favorite and provided an extraordinary bridge between basketball fans in the United States and China."
Yao's influence went far beyond sports. The video in which he taught Rockets teammate Tracy Mcgrady how to handle chopsticks was widely watched on the Internet. And his Yao Restaurant is also famous in the U.S.
Yao also earned a great deal of praise for his humorous and intelligent remarks. In an interview with ESPN, Yao stated that the national anthem of the United States is his favorite song, "for I have to listen to it at least 82 times every year." When queried about his English skill, Yao simply responded "I have learned how to say 'next question'."
The famous "Yao quotes" had been used by U.S. President Barack Obama.
"Of course as a new president and also as a basketball fan, I have learned from the words of Yao Ming who said, 'No matter whether you are new, or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another,'" Obama said in a 2009 Washington meeting.
"Through the constructive meetings that we have already had, and through this dialogue, I am confident that we will meet Yao's standard."
Yao's cultural influence continued after his retirement. Everything he does still attracts worldwide attention.
Yao returned to school this week to study for a university degree in Shanghai's prestigious Jiaotong University. He is balancing his class work with running a Chinese basketball team -- the Shanghai Sharks -- and a jam-packed schedule of public appearances.
Tennis player Li Na, who also speaks fluent English, is tipped to be a successor to Yao as a cultural ambassador since she won the French Open this June. Li won China's first WTA singles title in 2004, became the country's first Grand Slam quarterfinalist in 2006 and China's first world top 10 player this year after reaching the Australian Open final. The French Open victory lifted her to world number four, equalling Japanese Kimiko Date-Krumm's Asian record.
Li, from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, is quite popular worldwide. Her age, which is not young, her experience of coming back from retirement and her personality all arouse curiosity in the West. She is different from most Chinese sportswomen who are known in the West as straight-faced, obedient and careful about what they say.
The 29-year-old Li is confident, sociable and relaxed when facing camera and media, and like Yao Ming, she has a sense of humor.
She is fond of poking fun at her husband, who is also her personal trainer, during her interviews. Once she said: "My husband promised to let me loose with his credit cards if I win (the championship)." She even complained to reporters about his snoring before major matches and asked the chair umpire to tell excited Chinese fans in the stands to keep quiet.
Her brand of humor represents a new image for Chinese athletes, and quite possibly for the country at large. She is also acclaimed by some as "China's best PR rep."
"Li has a very straight-talking unusual personality and is more outgoing than most Chinese athletes and we think this could translate around the world," said Penguin China managing director Jo Lusby.
"She is a great ambassador, a great athlete, a great personality, already a national hero in China and the western world is beginning to get to know her and enjoying her as she has great talent on the court and is good fun off the court," WTA tour chief executive Stacey Allaster said.
Athens Olympic hurdles champion Liu Xiang is another influential sports star in China.
Liu is the first Chinese athlete to achieve a feat of "triple crowns" in athletics, having won Olympic and world championship gold and shattered his world record. He had been a hot favorite for the Beijing Olympics before he stunned the world by withdrawing from competition because of a foot injury.
After a 13-month absence during which he received a surgery on his right Achilles tendon in the United States in December 2008, Liu returned in style at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix on September 20, 2009. He won silver in a controversial final of the 2011 world championships.
The 28-year-old "flying man" should have won the gold if his pace had not been disturbed by Cuban Dayron Robles, who was later disqualified. However, Liu didn't blame Robles, saying he didn't care about the color of the medal.
With their fluent English, glamorous personalities and convincing results, the Chinese sports stars have become new idols for a new generation. What they have changed is not only the image of Chinese sports, but also the image of the whole country.