Kim Clijsters came from behind to win her first Australian Open title. The Belgian, seed third, defeated Li Na to win the fourth Grand Slam title of her career.
In a thrilling final, that lasted over two hours, Clijsters secured her second consecutive Grand Slam success, following on from last year’s US Open, with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. The final marked the first time that a Chinese player had reached a final at this level, and while Li struggled to contain her emotions at times, her success over the last fortnight showed that she can challenge for the biggest prizes.
The match, played in the Rod Laver Arena, opened with Clijsters taking a two game lead before Li sprang into life. The ninth seed, who did not win a point during the opening exchanges, found her range on her second service game before breaking her opponents serve to level the match at 2-2. The pair traded blows before Li landed the decisive punch, breaking Clijsters to clinch the set with a series of punishing forehands.
The second set opened with neither player able to hold serve for the opening four games. Li was the first to hold serve before Clijsters did likewise to tie the set at 3-3. Li was looking strong at this point and seemingly could match anything that Clijsters could offer. Then in the seventh game the tide started to turn and Clijsters’ converted a break point. This would prove decisive.
At the changeover Li was clearly distressed and annoyed by her boisterous compatriots in the stand. Approaching the umpire she pleaded “Can you tell the Chinese don’t teach me how to play tennis?”
The Chinese fans, clearly unused to the etiquette of attending tennis matches, had been shouting her Li to “beat her” and other such comments. It had clearly unsettled Li and at the changeover it was clear that the momentum, both on and off court, had shifted to Clijsters. With Li’s mind clearly distracted, now was the time for Clijsters, the world number three, to pounce.
Clijsters, buoyed by the break of serve, won the next game to leave to leave Li serving to stay in the second set. Li battled hard and ran her opponent ragged with a series of hard hitting shots from the baseline. Clijsters was forced to hit numerous shots stretched to breaking point, the Belgian hitting shots from her trademark splits, to somehow keep points alive. An unforced error from Li clinched the second set for Clijsters, and a fist pump from the Belgian showed her desire to finish the job as soon as possible.
An early break of serve in the deciding set gave Clijsters a 2-1 lead and a second break of serve ended any, realistic, chance of Li taking the crown. The Chinese star battled on, and held serve, to force Clijsters to serve for the championship. The Belgian did so to clinch her first title down under and quickly her emotions boiled to the surface.
Clijsters, long adored by the Australian crowd, was clearly overjoyed to have finally won a title in front of fans that took her as one of their own. “Finally I feel you can call me ‘Aussie Kim’ now that I have won in Australia!”
Throughout the two weeks of the Open Clijsters was not always at her best, but over the course of the fortnight she did enough to progress on days where her play was less than stellar. Today’s final followed a similar path; she did enough to stay in the match and then punished her opponent when her form returned.
With Serena Williams return to the Tour still in doubt, this victory once more reinforces Clijsters as the player to beat in 2011.