Andrew Li, son of Hong Kong table tennis legend Hok Wing-li, chose a slightly different path from the one his father set out for him.
“My dad introduced me to table tennis and tennis when I was five years old,” explained Li, 20. “But because he played for the Hong Kong national team, he was very strict and serious when we trained for table tennis. I preferred playing tennis because it was more fun and relaxed.”
Ironically, tennis – the sport originally meant to supplement Li’s ping-pong training – turned out to be his true calling. Now, he is a fully-fledged superstar – he plays for the Hong Kong national team as well as the American university, Georgia Tech, where he is studying on a full athletic scholarship.
Li left Diocesan Boys’ School (DBS) after Form Five so he could focus more on tennis.
“When I was in DBS, I spent a lot of time travelling abroad to different tournaments, so I was missing a lot of classes and falling behind,” he explained. “I decided to get an American high school certificate online so that I could travel more and become a full-time professional tennis player.”
Li has been one of the top-ranked tennis players in Hong Kong since he was 16. Incredibly, he won the CRC Open – one of the biggest tournaments in Hong Kong – when he was only 17. He has also represented Hong Kong in the Davis Cup – “the world cup of tennis” – for the past few years, helping to secure notable victories over countries like Vietnam.
He has found tremendous success at Georgia Tech – at one point he was the 15th-ranked college player in the US. He was well on his way to becoming an All-American – one of the highest honours in university sports in the US – when he suffered a serious shoulder injury that derailed his chances of winning the title.
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“I suffered a partially torn labrum last season, which kept me out for a while and caused a drop in the rankings,” explained Li, who also missed this summer’s University Games in Taiwan due to the injury. “It is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my career.”
Fortunately, now that his shoulder is almost fully healed, he is ready to bounce back this season.
Li, now in his third year at Georgia Tech, hopes to return to Hong Kong after graduation to become a professional tennis player. He said one of his aims is to become the first male player from Hong Kong to enter the top 100 in the ATP tennis rankings, but that goal is “still very far away”.
He also wants to help facilitate the growth of Hong Kong tennis.
“There is still a lot of room for improvement. The top professionals in Hong Kong are at about the same level as top US college players, but the gap with the pros is still very big,” he added.
Li, whose tennis idol is the Swiss master, Roger Federer, believes the city’s secondary schools need to do a better job of nurturing young athletic talent.
“In Hong Kong, all of the best tennis players go to DBS. It’s the only school that supports athletes ... allows them to take time off to travel and compete in tournaments, as well as provide additional academic support,” he said.
“But because all the best players were at DBS, it meant that the interschool tournaments weren’t competitive at all. That was one reason I decided to quit school to play tennis full-time.”
Li has some advice for aspiring tennis stars. “Take good care of your body, because if you’re injured, you can’t play. Simple. Also, enjoy every tournament you play, and don’t let losses get you down. I know players who didn’t do well in tournaments and started saying things like, ‘I don’t like this game any more; It’s not fun because I’m not winning’. But think about it. If you keep working hard, those losses mean nothing because, eventually, you will be able to achieve something great.”