As she said herself last night, Kim Clijsters has finally earned the right to be called “Aussie Kim”.
Clijsters came from a set down to win her first Australian Open title over China’s Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a see-saw match that had both players crushing the ball from the baseline in extended rallies before a change up in direction and pace from Clijsters late in the second set along with Li’s own frustration with vocal Chinese fans yelling out during points proved to be the deciding factor after it looked Li might take the match in straight sets.
After Clijsters jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the final set, Li did manage to break back for 2-1 but, Li’s continuing focus on the crowd and the moment led to her undoing as she allowed Clijsters to jump out to a 4-1 lead which boosted Clijsters to finally serve out the match and the championship.
Everyone figured experience would be the deciding factor in this one and it was, though I was surprised that Li, who afterwards said she didn’t feel nervous at all playing her first Grand Slam final, let the crowd get to her so much. As for Clijsters who for most of the event played ok enough to get past her early round opponents, it was that experience of having “been there, done that” that got her though this one, especially when she looked out of sorts in the first set.
Clijsters, now with four Grand Slam titles, is getting closer to being considering one of the great players not only of her generation but also perhaps of all time, especially if she can win a few more majors, including the French Open which her coach believes she can do this spring. And it’s also starting to look very likely that with Clijsters playing a full schedule, at least for 2011, that she will overtake Caroline Wozniacki as the No. 1 player in the WTA. And considering the ongoing debate over Wozniacki’s claim to the top spot, along with the recent retirement of Justine Henin and the hoped for return of Serena Williams, having Clijsters own the No. 1 ranking again may give the WTA some needed stability both in the eyes of the media and among its fans.
But for now everyone should celebrate and appreciate Kim Cljsters and Li Na for their achievements this past fortnight. Clijsters may have ended up with the bigger prize, but it’s Li who’ll be remembered for her outstanding play and those on-court interviews and one liners that brought a lot more fans to her and to the sport. Li’s efforts may indeed spark a tennis revolution in her home nation, but as Li has often said she plays for herself and her country second. In the promo before the match, Li was asked when she looks at herself who does she see. She said, “I see a strong woman. Always fighting. This is me.”
Now that folks is a one liner worth remembering.