Clijsters reigns supreme
Kim Clijsters claimed the richest purse in women's tennis history after denying Chinese trailblazer Li Na in a riveting Australian Open final tonight.
Kim Clijsters claimed the richest purse in women’s tennis history after denying Chinese trailblazer Li Na in a riveting Australian Open final tonight.
Clijsters pocketed a monster cheque for $2.2 million after out-willing Asia’s first-ever Grand Slam singles finalist for a stirring 3-6 6-3 6-3 comeback win at Melbourne Park.
The 27-year-old Belgian also became the first mother to reign in Australia since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1977 and first woman to snare back-to-back Grand Slam crowns since Serena Williams completed the same US Open-Australian Open double in 2008-09.
The two-hour, five-minute victory – in what was only the second grand slam final to go the distance in the past four-and-a-half years – handed third-seeded Clijsters her fourth career major and 41st title overall.
Her breakthrough triumph in Australia reduced Lleyton Hewitt’s one-time fiancee to tears.
“I finally feel like you guys can call me ‘Aussie Kim’ because I won the title,” the popular winner said in her victory speech.
“To the fans, thank you so much, not just here in Melbourne. I’ve been coming to Australia for many years and you guys have been amazing.
“Even when things weren’t going so well, you guys have been supportive … it helped me keep fighting and get the title today.”
Li had toppled Clijsters at Medibank Sydney International 2011 final in straight sets two weeks ago and, riding an 11-match winning streak, looked poised to spring another major upset after powering to a set and 3-2 lead.
Clijsters, though, refused to yield and eventually weighed Li down with her relentless and at-times remarkable retrieving from the back of the court.
Playing possibly her last Australian Open, Clijsters had not dropped a set all tournament in reaching the title match for a second time.
But the 2004 runner-up had no answer to Li’s awesome firepower in the first set-and-a-half.
Contesting her eighth grand slam final, Clijsters made a confident enough start, winning the first eight points of the match for a 2-0 lead.
Stunningly, though, Li won six of the next seven games to snatch the first set in 38 minutes.
Mixing scorching groundstrokes with crazy angles, Li continued to crunch cold winner after cold winner as she threatened to become – at 28 years and 11 months – the fifth-oldest women’s grand slam champion of the 43-year open era.
But as she closed in on a famous, landmark triumph, Li began to falter – just as her vastly experienced opponent raised her game.
From 3-2 down, the tennis supermum peeled off six straight games to seize the second set and surge ahead 2-0 in the third.
Li broke back for 2-1 but her revival was brief, the triple US Open champion winning the next two games to take a stranglehold on the match.
China’s ninth seed held serve for 3-5, but Clijsters also kept her nerve to coolly close out the contest to love when Li fired a forehand long on the Belgian’s first championship point.
Li was gracious in defeat, congratulating Clijsters on her successful campaign before expressing special thanks to her husband – former Chinese Davis Cup player Jiang Shan, who took over as coach late last year when she split with Swede Thomas Hogstedt.
“I’ve made many jokes about my husband,” Li said.
“But it doesn’t matter if you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly, I will always follow you, always love you.
“Also for myself, doesn’t matter today if I win or lose because I tried my best at tennis already.”
Li took home a consolation prize of $1.1 million – more than enough for retail therapy for the self-confessed shop-aholic.