Jan. 29 • She had already established herself as the queen of New York; now Australia can finally call her one of her own. Cementing her status as one of the top players over the past decade, an emotional Kim Clijsters won her fourth Grand Slam title by taking her first Australian Open with a 3-6 6-3 6-3 victory over China's Li Na.
Li, the No.9 seed, was the sharper of the two early, taking the first set on the strength of more aggressive numbers ― 10 winners to just three for Clijsters. After a string of breaks to start the second set, Clijsters was the one who steadied herself, winning six straight games from 6-3 3-2 down to win the second set and build a 2-0 lead in the third set. Li was not to recover from that stretch.
'She did everything better than me in that first set', Clijsters told press. 'Her groundstrokes were heavier, deeper. She served better, she returned better. She was playing really, really well ― probably the best she's ever played against me. I tried mixing it up, putting some slices in, hitting a few higher shots that drew some errors. I saw her get a little bit aggravated and I just tried to hang in there.'
Clijsters praised the crowd in her on-court speech: 'I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim, because I won the title. I've been coming here for many years and you guys have always been amazing. It helps so much.'
'I take positives. I think I played great tennis. She played better than me', Li said. 'After the match, when I was going back to the locker room, I made a joke that a tennis match should only be one set. I'm still happy what I did today. Right now I'll just take total rest, because Chinese New Year is coming soon. I'll take time with the family and prepare for the next tournament.'
Clijsters's first three majors came at the US Open, in 2005, 2009 and 2010. She is now 4-4 in major finals, losing her first four and winning her last four.
Clijsters had lost to Li in the final of the lead-up event in Sydney, but that could have worked in her favor ― the last player to win a title the week before a major then go on to win that major was all of seven years ago in 2004, when Justine Henin won Sydney and then won the Australian Open two weeks later.
Li was the first Asian ever to reach a Grand Slam final in singles, and will now bounce back into the world's Top 10 and to a new career-high, No.7. She will be Asia's second-highest ranked player ever, after Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan (who went as high as No.4 in the world back in 1995, during her first career).
'It's so exciting I could be the first one', Li said of her breakthrough. 'I want another trophy. I want my name there - just one more step. Maybe next time.'
'I'd like to congratulate Li Na', Kim said. 'She's such a tough competitor and she made such a great effort these last few weeks. I'm sure we'll have some tough battles coming up - a few more Grand Slam finals would be nice!'
Kim will rise from No.3 to No.2 on the new rankings, the highest ranking of her second career, since coming back to the WTA in two summers ago.
There has been talk about how much longer Kim will play, talk that got louder after the retirement of Henin, whose career was somewhat parallel.
'I do think this is probably my last full season'', the 27-year-old Clijsters said. 'When I started again, I had the Olympics in my mind. I wanted to try to keep going until then. I obviously never expected things to go so well so quickly.'
Will she be back to defend Down Under? 'Yeah, I hope so', she said.