MELBOURNE, Australia - Kim Clijsters believes she's now earned the nickname she had for years in Australia.
“I finally feel like you guys can call me ‘Aussie Kim’ because I won the title,” a teary Clijsters said after beating China’s Li Na, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, Saturday night to capture her first Australian Open. “It’s nice to finally get it this year.”
Clijsters lost the 2004 Australian Open final to Justine Henin and lost four times in the semifinals. This was Clijsters’ fourth Grand Slam tournament championship, but the first apart from the U.S. Open.
“To win it in this way means a lot,” she told a TV interviewer after the match. “This one to me, is the one. When I think back on my childhood, I remember watching the Australian Open and seeing Monica Seles win many times. I remember her doing her speech (in the stands), and it was something that I was just amazed by. It seemed like such a fairy tale.”
Li was trying to become the first Asian to win a major, and the final was far from a smooth ride. She complained to the chair umpire about the Chinese fans and was bothered by photographers’ flashes in the courtside pits.
“They shouted, ‘Finish her off!’ sometimes even when we were hitting the ball,” Li said through a translator. “I thought, ‘How can they do this?’ ”
In doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan successfully defended their title, beating Indian stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, 6-3, 6-4, for their fifth Australian crown and 10th Grand Slam championship.
Today, Andy Murray hopes to win his first major and end an almost 75-year drought for British men at the majors. He meets No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the men’s final.
The Australian public has long regarded Clijsters as one of their own. And not only because she was once engaged to Lleyton Hewitt, an Australian who won two Grand Slam titles and was ranked No. 1 before Roger Federer began his run. Clijsters is laid back and resilient, and the fans in Melbourne noticed.
She started convincingly, winning the first eight points for a 2-0 lead. Then Li rallied. She got her forehand working and fired winners with her two-handed backhand.
Clijsters looked unsettled, dropping serve four straight times. She then decided to mix it up after Li won the first set and took a 3-2 lead in the second. That’s when Li’s game started to fold as she was getting increasingly upset with the Chinese spectators.
In the third set, Li asked chair umpire Alison Lang to intervene, saying: “Can you tell the Chinese, don’t teach me how to play tennis?”
Lang asked the crowd for quiet – twice. It didn’t work.
Li became increasingly rattled. After she held for 3-2 in the second set, Clijsters upped the ante, winning the next three games to regain control. In the third set, Clijsters broke to lead 4-1, and the match was all but over.