Kim Clisters (3) today won her first Grand Slam outside of the USA, in winning the 2011 Australian Open Ladies Singles Final against China’s Li Na (9).
Clijsters came from behind to win in three sets, 3-6 6-3 6-3.
The story of the match was Clijsters going for perhaps too much for the first set and a half, before settling and playing less attacking tennis, as Li’s game began to deteriorate in the final two sets – often producing back-to-back errors.
Li lifted the first set 6-3 before Clijsters retaliated by taking the second set by the same scoreline – particularly in the second half of that set seeming to settle and play her best tennis.
As the third set opened, the raucus Australian crowd were ready to see a final set showdown, in which Kim Clijsters served first, and got away to a quick start winning a dominant game to love, though Li Na missed two relatively easy put-aways, signalling that her early concentration was in danger of deserting her.
In the second game, Clijsters worked three break points, and, despite Li Na’s best efforts – two were saved – the third was taken as she missed a volley at the net which would have brought deuce. Clijsters had a 2-0 advantage, and it was her serve.
Li got a chance to break back straight away as Clijsters’ first serve faltered, but put the break point opportunity into the net. However, Clijsters double faulted – her second in this game coming at the worst possible moment – to give Li a second break point, which she took with a beautiful deep pass into the corner.
The game had come from nowhere, as Clijsters, before her serve inexplicably fell away in game three, had been beginning to get on top of her opponent, but such is the way with Grand Slam tennis finals when the finishing line comes in sight.
Clijsters produced a fabulous cross-court forehand in the very next game, on Li’s serve, to go 15-30 up, but Li Na responded with a powerful drive down the line two shots later to go 40-30. The game went to deuce after a long rally – in which Clijsters was more than willing to stay in without looking for a winner – ended with Li hitting straight into the net. Clijsters got a break point when Li double faulted, which she took at the first attempt when Li sent a backhand well wide – the 13th service break of this absorbing final.
Errors were beginning to haunt Li, and she showed signs of frustration in the next game, as Clijsters went 40-0 quickly following Li’s tenth and eleventh unforced errors of the set – a game Clijsters took to love as Li went long with another service return.
Two more errors on her serve saw Li fall to 15-30 in the next game as this final looked in danger of getting away from her, but a good first serve was followed by a confidence boosting winner on the next point, before picking up two more points to get back to 4-2, still one break behind.
Clijsters produced a solid service game, however, to go 5-2 up, just one game from victory.
Li Na, a little less inhibited than she had appeared earlier in this set, collected the next game on serve to force Clijsters to serve for the match at 5-3.
Clijsters appeared to want to get the match wrapped as soon as possible, and she drove the first two first serves into the corner of the service box, before hitting forehand winners to go 30-0 up. When Li Na missed a difficult shot up the line, Clijsters had three Championship Points. She only needed one, as another Li error saw her forehand spray wide, and Clijsters, clad in green, raised her arms to the jubilant crowd after a thoroughly deserved victory.
Clijsters’ Grand Slam final experience probably got her over the line today, but Li will be back at the highest level of tennis in tournaments to come, there is no doubt. Having defeated seeds 1 and 2 to get here in their respective semi-finals, both players were here on merit, and produced an entertaining final which featured some excellent tennis.
If there is a slight shame, it is that Li appeared to get slightly rattled at times with the crowd, but, it is felt, this is something that will disipate with time, as the Chinese star gets more comfortable playing in the biggest arena.
Clijsters showed today, however, that she can set an incredibly high standard of tennis, at the highest possible level, in the most highly-pressured of environments.
2011 could be Clijsters’ last season as a tennis professional – if that is the case, then this tournament has been quite a swansong.