The Belgian tennis mother promises to continue on as her rival, the first Chinese player to reach a grand slam final, suffers big stage fright and loses after winning the first set.
Favourite Clijsters wins Australian Open final over a nervous Li Na
MELBOURNE // Kim Clijsters finally won her first Australian Open title and the fourth major of her career, wiping tears from her eyes after she beat Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the Australian Open final.
The result ended the outstanding run of Li, who became the first Chinese player to reach a grand slam singles final.
Li appeared to become upset with some of the Chinese spectators in the crowd in the third set, and asked the chair umpire to intervene. She later complained about the flashes from photographers at center court.
US Open champion Clijsters' win came in what is likely her last appearance at Melbourne Park - she said that 2011 could be her last full year on the tour.
After the match, though, she appeared to qualify that - maybe "full" year means a restricted schedule for next year.
Asked by a television interviewer if she would be back to defend her Australian Open title, she replied: "Yes, I would like to."
Clijsters, who has three US Open titles, lost the 2004 Australian Open final to Justine Henin and has been reached the semifinals four other times.
"I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim because I won the title," Clijsters said at the trophy presentations, referring to her crowd favoritism that came from her former relationship with Australian No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.
"Even when things weren't going good, you guys were really supportive of me and I really appreciate it."
Looking at Li, Clijsters said: "I think we'll have a lot more tough battles to come, hopefully a few more Grand Slam finals would be nice."
It was the first night match for Li at Rod Laver Arena, where the cooler temperatures after the sun sets usually makes the hard court slower. But Melbourne warmed up late Saturday, making even the night conditions similar to what Li would have experienced in cooler day matches earlier in the tournament.
Li, with her courtside humor and bubbly personality, endeared herself to the fans here and around the world. Back home, she was a huge hit.
"The Chinese fans were prepared to express their feelings and shed their tears of excitement. We were just one step from victory," China Central Television announcer Tong Kexin said Saturday. CCTV predicted that about 15 million people watched the match live on its sports channel.
Li was at her joking best after her loss. "I think I played great tennis, but she played better than me," Li said "After the match, back to the locker room, I make joke, tennis should only play one set."
Clijsters led 4-2 in head-to-head matches before the match, but Li beat Clijsters in the Sydney International final two weeks ago after the Belgian player had led 5-0 in the opening set.
Li and Clijsters weren't into any mind games before the match, seen outside the dressing room doors joking and smiling with each other. Li seemed uncharacteristically nervous in her pre-match TV interview, though, and that translated on to the court.
Clijsters opened the match with an ace, winning the first game on four straight points, then breaking Li the same way for a 2-0 lead after just a few minutes.
But Li found her range and seemed to lose her nervousness in the third game, breaking Clijsters and then holding for 2-2.
The turnaround continued when Li saved two big break points, then broke Clijsters in the final game of the set. She set up two set points with a stinging forehand that Clijsters didn't bother to run for, then two points later stunned Clijsters with a crosscourt forehand to close out the first set in 38 minutes.
There were four straight service breaks to open the second set before Li held to lead 3-2. Then Clijsters held for the first time in four games to level the set at 3-3. Clijsters, with a backhand winner to the open court, broke Li in the next game to lead 4-3.
After that service break, Li went up to chair umpire Alison Lang of Britain and asked: "Can you tell the Chinese don't teach me how to play tennis." That was in reference to some people in the crowd yelling out - apparently exhorting her to "finish her," and "beat her," and later "calm down" in Chinese that seemed to be bothering Li
Li also snapped at her husband and coach, "stop shouting at me."
Clijsters, who dropped serve in four straight games from the end the first set, staged a remarkable turnaround, holding serve to open the deciding set and breaking Li's service to take a 2-0 lead, just as she had in the opening set.
The Belgian player went up 3-1 when Li again lost her service for the seventh time in the match, then held in the next to go up 4-1.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Clijsters finished as she started it, taking four points in a row and winning the title when Li's last forehand landed wide.
After walking back to her chair, Clijsters buried her head in a towel. Li also had tears in her eyes on the other side of the court.
Andy Murray will try to become the first British man in almost 75 years to win a Grand Slam singles title when he plays 2008 champion Novak Djokovic in the men's final Sunday.