Kim Clijsters Defeats Li Na to Win Australian Open

January 29, 2011 Updated: February 1, 2011

Kim Clijsters poses with the Daphne Akhurst Trophy after winning her women's final match against Li Na at the 2011 Australian Open. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Kim Clijsters poses with the Daphne Akhurst Trophy after winning her women's final match against Li Na at the 2011 Australian Open. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Kim Clijsters survived a tough first set and-a-half to triumph over China’s Li Na, earning the Belgian her first Australian Open championship and her fourth grand slam title with a 3–6, 6–3, 6–3 win.

Clijsters won through depth and mental toughness; Li hit as hard or harder, but her game was one-dimensional. When Clijsters switched up her tactics, Li couldn’t adjust, and when she couldn’t adjust, she lost her focus.

Clijsters ran hard and hit hard, but ultimately it was her ability to keep focused and let Li beat herself, which gave the No. 3-seeded Belgian the win.

Clijsters did lose her composure briefly after the match, crying into her towel as she sat absorbing the reality of her victory. This was her ninth attempt to win the title.

After the match Clijsters congratulated Li Na, saying, “I think we will have a lot of tough battles to come; hopefully … a few more grand slam finals together would be nice”

Kim Clijsters was stretched to her limits by Li Na, but managed to change her game and win the match. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)
Kim Clijsters was stretched to her limits by Li Na, but managed to change her game and win the match. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)
Clijsters, a big fan favorite in Australia, gave credit to the crowd for helping her win. “You guys have been amazing, and when things weren’t going so good you were always supportive of me, and I really, really appreciate it,” she said on ESPN. “Even today it just helps so much to keep me out there focusing and fighting to try to get that title, so thank you very much to everybody out there.

“I finally feel like you guys can call me ‘Aussie Kim’ because I finally won the title.”

Clijsters thanked the sponsors and then the staff, noting how much easier they made it for all the players. She also thanked the Australian dentist who did emergency repairs on her chipped tooth before practice. She also thanked her uncle, whom she made wear ugly green pants to every match because of her superstitions.

Li Opens Strong, Clijsters Finishes Stronger

Li Na ran hard and hit harder, but lost focus halfway through the match. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Li Na ran hard and hit harder, but lost focus halfway through the match. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Li came out pounding the ball, and Clijsters could not beat the No. 9-seeded Chinese at her own game. After losing the first set 6–3, and trading breaks through the second set, Clijsters changed both her racquet and her tactics. Instead of trying to overpower Li, Clijsters began hitting slice backhands and slow, looping forehands, forcing Li to hit harder to make shots.

Li started missing, and started revealing signs of folding under pressure: she complained about the fans and the photographers, stamped the court, and swung angrily at a loose ball. These were not the only signs the pressure was affecting Li’s game; she had 14 unforced errors in the final set versus only five for Clijsters.

After the match, Li, with her trademark wry humor, thanked her husband and apologized for making him the butt of so many jokes, saying “Whether you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly, I love him, I always follow you, I always love you,” which brought a roar from the crowd.

“As for myself,” she continued, “doesn’t matter today, win or lose, because I played my best tennis already.” Doubtless the reality is not quite what she said; Li had the chance to be the first Asian player, man or woman, to win a grand slam title.

As her game matures, she will continue to be a threat at every event she enters.