Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kim Clijsters fights off Li Na wins first Australian Open title!

tears of joy after winning the last game and the championship on her serve

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 by taking her first Australian Open with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over China's Na Li.

It was a monumental victory for the Belgian, who despite being one of the best hard court players on the planet since 2003, had struggled time and time again to raise the big Melbourne trophy. 
Based on her winning the 2010 US Open as well as the year-end WTA Championships, Clijsters came into the tournament as the favourite despite her world No.3 ranking, but still had to put down a strong and ambitious field and did so by hardening her resolve when it matters most.

"Now I feel like you guys can finally call me Aussie Kim because I won the title," said the popular Belgian, who had earned the nickname during the first stage of her career when she was engaged to former No.1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

She was in deep trouble against the powerful Li in the first two sets as she was unable to take control of cross court rallies, served poorly and watched Li rip winners to the corners and out-run her. Clijsters grew extremely frustrated at times, but finally bore down midway through the second set, as at 3-3, she began to mix it up her shot selection and won five straight games.

Li fought her heart in the third set, but by that time, Clijsters had found her game and began to fire winners down the line off both wings, return with more aggression and accuracy and spot her serves well. 

After holding to love to win the contest, Clijsters lifted her arms to the sky and cried in joy into her towel. She thought about her father, Lei, who passed away a few years ago and wished that he could share the moments with her. 

She let out all the tension that had wracked her body in an incredibly tense match. She thought about the difficult three-set loss she took to Justine Henin in the 2004 final.

She has wanted to win the Australian Open from the time she was kid when she watched Monica Seles win time and time again and go up into the audience to share hugs with her supporters.

"I remember Monica giving her speeches and how special it looked," said Clijsters, who also owns three US Open titles. "It was amazing. They're all emotional. I think what overwhelms me is that it's so intense up until that last shot, and then all of a sudden it's finished. Then it's just like a big relief. The disbelief maybe a little bit too it's over and that I was able to turn it around is what makes it all so special."

Li was hoping to become the first player from China to win major and unlike many first time entrants to major finals, she didn't freeze during the occasion. While she grew frustrated by some of her Chinese fans in the crowd who were trying to coach her, she still put up a valiant effort against the former No.1.

"She played better than me," Li said. "After the match, back to the locker room, I make joke, tennis should only play one set I still happy what I do today So I proud for myself. She have more experience than me in the Grand Slam. But after lose the first set, she changed a little bit, like play more aggressive, so I was feeling little bit like late or something."

Since her 2009 comeback, Clijsters has won three out of the five Grand Slams she's played. She's a humble sort who won't be the one stating how great she has become, but she's a much improved and more composed player since she returned as a wife and mother. 

With 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams out of the picture in the last two Grand Slams due to injury, the 27-year-old Clijsters has come in as the favorite and performed remarkably well.

Here, she survived the hard-hitting left-hander Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round, the intelligent Pole Aga Radwanska in the quarterfinals, then world No.2 Vera Zvonareva - who had upset her at Wimbledon - the semifinals, and then the red hot Li, who had knocked off No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.

"Obviously, the last few years that I was playing [before her two year retirement], when I was No.1 or top 3, I've always been kind of one of the players that could win it," said Clijsters, who will rise to the No.2 ranking when they are released on Monday. "When I was younger, it kind of overwhelmed me a little bit. The pressure that I put upon myself got sometimes in the way of what I was trying to do out there. I think now that I'm a little bit older a lot of things that are being said in [the press], the pressure leaves as soon as I leave through that door. I think I was able to do that throughout this week, too."

"I know how hard it is to stay fit throughout two weeks, to try and be focused, and to try to not have a bad day like I had last year here [when she was stunned by Nadia Petrova]. You have to just try to stay really focused. I was able to do that really well, try to focus on trying to be the best Kim out there and not worry about the impact or the favorite role."


I started watching the match late last night (around 4am eastern) but decided to go to sleep after Kim lost the first set.

It was such a pleasant surprise to see her pull the championship out in 3.

Got to watch a repeat of the match later this afternoon.  Although I gotta say what's with skipping the trophy ceremony TSN?.  Not cool. 

For the first couple of sets it really felt like either one could have won it.

It's only mid way through the second set that I knew Kim would win it.

Once again just like at the U.S. Open she had some patchy matches but raised her game and played her best toward the end when it really mattered.

Congrats Kim on an awesome win and your 4th grand slam title!. 

I would love it if she could make it a "Kim slam" before leaving the game again.

If she keeps playing like this it just might happen.

Although that's a big ask, a French, or Wimbledon would do nicely :).

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