Saturday, January 29, 2011

kim clijsters defend Chines Li Na in Australian open 2011 final

The middle kingdom may eventually rule the women's tennis world - but not just yet.

An emotional Kim Clijsters, who held back tears of joy after converting match point, took her fourth grand slam and her first outside the United States.

The Belgian had dropped the first set in a nervous start but went on to win 3-6 6-3 6-3 in just over two hours last night.

Li Na, who was bidding to become the first Asian, male or female, to take a grand slam singles title, got into her rhythm early before her game gradually unravelled. She lost all accuracy on her forehand but, more importantly, lost focus.

Li appeared distracted by noises in the crowd, and even made a complaint late in the match over camera flashes.

It was strange stuff from a player with more than 500 matches at WTA level; while all her opponent could see was the finish line. Indeed the third set was barely contested, over in just 34 minutes; if the first half of the match was all about hope, the latter half was about truth.

It was strangely friendly as both players chatted amiably before the match; a contrast to the rivalry last year between Serena Williams and Justine Henin, who barely spoke.

Li was broken to love in her opening service game, and lost the first eight points of the match to the Belgian appearing in her eighth major final.

Cheered on by a packed players box with supporters in Nike-branded sweatshirts emblazoned with Major Breakthrough, Li settled and grabbed a break back immediately.

The 29-year-old Chinese player, the oldest Melbourne finalist since Chris Evert in 1988, had charmed the crowd all week, mostly at the expense of her husband and coach Jiang Shan.

Despite career earnings of over NZ$4 million she would constantly talk about shopping with his credit card, and blamed a slow start in her semifinal on an interrupted sleep due to his constant snoring.

Though Clijsters had progressed to the final without dropping a set, the 27-year-old had been prone to lapses and stumbled again early last night.

She failed to convert two break chances in the 6th game, then was promptly broken as errors were capitalised on by the energetic Li.

Clijsters lost her range completely midway through the first set, and Li won six of the last seven games to take the first set 6-3 in 38 minutes. An estimated 260 million viewers in China would have been in raptures, especially with the sizzling passing shot that converted her second set point.
The second set was a beauty. If the first set was about emotion and composure, the second was about shot-making as the quality lifted noticeably.

Neither player held serve until Li in the fifth game. Clijsters seemed bogged down in frustration in the early stages of the set, but the crucial moment came in the seventh game. She forced two break points on the wobbly Li serve, and took the second with a precise cross court pass.

Li, who had spent 9.5 hours on court on the road to the final (including saving a match point in her semifinal) was continuing to defend brilliantly.

But Cljisters was starting to have the final say. The Belgian relished the contest as the battle moved into the trenches. She broke Li again to take the set 6-3 in 57 minutes.

The Chinese player, who had looked agitated during the set, made an official complaint to the umpire about phantom calls in the crowd.

There had been some noises but it was all about inexperience in a big match; her mental state was such she would've heard the clinking of chopsticks over from Chinatown.

The final set was an oddity in the context of the match. Li never stopped going for her shots but the unforced errors mounted. She was broken in the fourth game, then made four consecutive forehand errors as Clijsters eased away.

Li, the only one of the 2010 quarter-finalists to reach the last eight again this year, could feel the match slipping away.

She had come back from 0-5 down in the Sydney tournament preceding the Open but it was never going to happen last night.

Yet another forehand sailed wide and Aussie Kim had the victoryto give her has a staggering 26-3 record in grand slam matches since she made her comeback in 2009.

A small consolation for Li will come on Tuesday, when she returns to the top 10 and a career high ranking of seven. Cljisters will also rise, to second in the world, her highest position since August 2006.