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January 29, 2011

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Australian Open 2011, Melbourne, Australia
January 29, 2011
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Women's Final - Kim Wins
January 29, 2011 -- Overcome by emotion as she stood at the baseline with her arms raised in victory, Kim Clijsters captured her first Australian Open and her fourth major title on Rod Laver Arena, Saturday night. She defeated the intriguing Na Li, the first Asian player -- man or woman -- to reach a Grand Slam singles final.
Many considered Na Li, with only four career titles, the underdog especially compared to Clijsters' forty career titles, three of which are majors. But Li's upset of #1 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals, along with her upbeat personality and witty commentary about everything from her coach, and husband, who snores, and her motivation for winning the title -- prize money -- have endeared her to fans worldwide, particularly millions of Chinese that attempted to tune into the match today on state-run television.
This was the fifth straight Grand Slam final between two players aged 25 and over. Clijsters is just under 28 and Li is about to turn 29, which makes her the oldest finalist at the Australian Open since Chris Evert in 1988. Chris was 33 at the time.
So where has Na Li kept herself? According to WTA records, Li sputtered initially in 1996 then left the game for two years. She played on the ITF circuit, winning titles here and there, but left the tour again in 2003. It wasn't until 2006 that she broke into the top 30.
Both knees plus her back have intruded on her career, too. She has always been a threat because of her heavy strokes, consistent serve, and fine footwork. The closest she's come to a major title was at last year's Australian Open. She lost in two tight tiebreak sets in the semifinals to Serena Williams. That's when the tennis world perked up to Li.
But her roller-coaster emotions and insistence on shot making instead of strategy have kept her out of the top 10. On Monday, though, she will rise to #7 in the world.
Belief in her game rose to a new level as she defeated Clijsters in the final of Sydney, just before the Australian Open got in gear. Li continued on a roll during the six rounds that precede the final, her toughest test coming in the semifinals where she battled back from match-point down to defeat Caroline Wozniacki, the #1 seed and #1 player in the world.
Clijsters didn't waste a second after the final got underway, going up a quick break. But Li didn't crumble or give in to any first-major jitters.
"Tennis is six games for a set," Li explained. "So I still have chance. I lost two games, but I didn't give up. I come back."
To the delight of 15,000 fans, Li stepped on the gas and threw the seasoned Clijsters on her heels. Li became the steadier finalist, breaking back and winning the set.
Her strokes and composure were sublime. Li's love of pace and baseline rallies nestled neatly with Kim's game. Li had had more trouble with Wozniacki because the Dane defended well but couldn't attack well.
Clijsters wasn't about to go away, though, even if she muttered to herself uncharacteristically. She tacked just enough to disrupt Li's rhythm, throwing in moonballs and slices. She kept Li on the move, too. The steely Clijsters yelled 'come on,' right as she won the set. Her best chances were straight ahead.
"She did everything better than me in the first set," Clijsters said. "Her groundstrokes were heavier, deeper. She served and returned better. I thought about what I could do differently, to disrupt her rhythm and make her think a bit more."
Li slipped away from the raw essentials of winning a match, in the third. Instead she progressively entertained her emotions, which Clijsters noticed.
"I saw her get a little bit aggravated," Kim began. "I just tried to hang in there."
Li was upset about noise coming from the crowd, pockets of excited Chinese on the edges of their seats. She asked the chair umpire to warn people not to use a flash camera. She stopped play during one point to challenge a line call. It landed smack dab on the baseline, which further exacerbated Li's ability to concentrate.
"China coaches were coaching me on court," Li said. "They want I can win this match but they coach me. They can talk, but not during the point."
After she double faulted to go down a break, she had no choice. She had to move away from her emotions. But she didn't. Instead, she dragged her anger and disappointment through the next game while Clijsters' concentration kept on track. She left Li to her drama.
Clijsters has some real experience in court drama, too. She was the star witness in the semifinals of the U. S. Open in 2009 as Serena Williams went on her rampage after being called for a foot fault. In those tense moments Kim stayed on her side of the court and straightened her racquet's strings as she does out of habit between points.
Clijsters may not have played the best tennis match of her life tonight; however, she played smart tennis.
Clijsters has intimated that this might be her last full year on tour. She and her husband, Brian, would like to have a second child. If something goes awry with that plan, she might consider touring alongside Na Li.
The two have entertained the international media throughout the fortnight. Clijsters confronted Todd Woodbridge in front of fans packed into Rod Laver Arena about a text he sent to Rennae Stubbs. In it he asked if Kim were pregnant. The touchy situation turned on its heels with Kim's flare for fun.
Na Li's sense of humor peppered all her press conferences. As she accepted the runner's up trophy she looked up to her husband, the frequent brunt of her jokes, and said, "[It] doesn't matter if you fat or skinny, I'll always follow you and love you."
For Kim Clijsters, the honor of the title came as a relief; the last point was over and she had turned the match around. She also felt comfortable calling herself 'Aussie Kim,' a name given to her by the people of Australia many years ago.
Congratulations, Aussie Kim, on your Australian Open singles championship.


Earlier Columns from this Event:
January 28, 2011 Australian Open: The Wall
January 27, 2011 Australian Open: Second Sets
January 26, 2011 Australian Open: Door Slammed Shut on Nadal
January 25, 2011 Australian Open: What Are The Chances
January 24, 2011 Australian Open: New Kid on The Block
January 23, 2011 Australian Open: You Don't Say
January 22, 2011 Australian Open: Aching Aussie Hearts
January 21, 2011 Australian Open: Venus
January 20, 2011 Australian Open: The Others
January 19, 2011 Australian Open: Back From the Brink
January 18, 2011 Australian Open: The Unluck of The Draw
January 17, 2011 Australian Open: Spanning The Globe
January 16, 2011 Australian Open: Off To The Races

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