Belgium’s Kim Clijsters came from a set down to beat Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 and win her maiden Australian Open title on Saturday, dashing Chinese hopes of a first ever Grand Slam win.
After a shaky first set, three-time US Open-winner Clijsters fought her way back in a thrilling final in front of 15,000 fans at Rod Laver Arena, including a vocal Chinese contingent.
“I finally feel like you guys can call me ‘Aussie Kim’ because I won the title,” Clijsters told her Australian fans, who gave her the nickname when she was engaged to Lleyton Hewitt.
The 27-year-old Clijsters claimed her fourth Grand Slam title, and her third since ending a long career break to give birth to her daughter, Jada. She is now considering scaling back her schedule again.
Clijsters went into
the tournament as the firm favorite but was made to battle all the way by Li, who was hoping to complete her own fairytale by becoming the first Chinese – or Asian – player to win a Grand Slam.
“Li and I have played some amazing matches over a number of years – she’s a tough competitor,” Clijsters said. “It’s been a great effort for her these part two weeks and I hope we can play many more Grand Slam finals in the future.”
Li had been on the front cover of many of China’s major newspapers as the world’s most populous nation looked to the 28-year-old from Wuhan to create a piece of tennis history.
But despite looking the likely winner in the first set, Li faded in the third and became increasingly agitated as the match slipped away, complaining about comments and flash photography from the crowd.
Clijsters had opened in fine style as she won the first eight points of the match, but once Li settled down and found her range with her dominant groundstokes, and her forehand in particular, she steadily took control.
“(The first set) was going too fast for me,” Clijsters said. “She was doing everything so well, she was hitting both sides, forehand and backhand, and she was serving well.”
Still A Champion In The Eyes Of Millions
She lost the title, but stole the show. China tennis ace Li Na may have lost the Australian Open to third-seeded Belgian Kim Clijsters, but her spirited attempt at the Grand Slam title has won her legions of fans not just at home, but in Australia where she charmed those watching her play with her humor and straight-hitting answers.
* Story from China Daily and Agence France-Presse
*Photos by Willeam West / Agence France-Presse, and Reuters