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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Australian Open: Kim Clijsters beats Li Na in final


Kim Clijsters beat Li Na in a pulsating final to win her first Australian Open and fourth Grand Slam title.

Li had made history by becoming China's first Grand Slam singles finalist and made a strong start, but Clijsters powered back to win 3-6 6-3 6-3.

It is the first time that three-time US Open champion Clijsters has won a major title outside of New York.

The 27-year-old has now won back-to-back Grand Slam titles and will rise to second in the world rankings.

She made a typically fast start to Sunday's final, reeling off the opening nine points in a row to grab an early break of serve as Li looked nervous in her first major final.

But the Chinese ninth seed had repeatedly shown her fighting qualities over the past fortnight and headed into the final with an 11-0 record in 2011, and having beaten Clijsters to win the Sydney title on the eve of the tournament.

She quickly settled into the rhythm of heavy hitting off both sides that had seen off world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals and began to dominate again.

Three games in a row gave Li the first set, which she sealed with a rasping forehand winner past a stranded Clijsters, and the Belgian looked momentarily lost for answers.

A double fault from Li gave Clijsters a much-needed break at the start of the second set and it prompted a run of four successive breaks as the momentum swung from side to side, with both women under huge pressure on serve.

This time it was Clijsters who took the initiative with a run of five straight games as Li struggled to keep the error count down, but the Chinese player stopped the rot by breaking back with a blistering return to trail 2-1 in the decider.

A nail-biting final set appeared to be unfolding but it was Li who buckled under the pressure, giving up another break of serve with a double fault and a wayward backhand in game four, and Clijsters pumped her fist as she closed in on victory.

When it was required, the former world number one showed her mettle with two quickfire holds of serve to stand on the brink of the title, before closing it out to love and dissolving into tears as the achievement began to sink in.

"I'm a little shaky still," said Clijsters, a beaten Melbourne finalist in 2004. "Li Na was definitely a very tough competitor. She really brought it to me at the start of the rallies. I was on the back foot and leaning back - I don't like that.

"The first set, I thought 'Wow! This is going to fast for me!' It was tough. I felt in the second set she was getting a bit nervous. I was just happy I was able to pull it off in the end."

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