After an opening set in Rod Laver Arena that made it seem all but certain this one would go the other way, No. 3 Kim Clijsters rallied to defeat Li Na, 3-6 6-3 6-3, in the finals of the Australian Open 2011. Li is the first Chinese player, male or female, to reach the finals of a Grand Slam event. She will not be the last, and she may yet be the first player to win a tournament of this magnitude, but when Clijsters is having one of her night's, it's proven quite difficult for it to be anybody else's night.
Following a largely unremarkable first set in which Clijsters seemed more than a little discombobulated, the two women traded breaks to open the second set in a fit of mutual ineptitude, but trailing 3-4 in the second, it became uncomfortably apparent that Li was feeling the pressure:
Li took her frustration out on Chinese fans in the crowd, marching to the chair and asking British umpire Alison Lang: “Can you tell the Chinese don’t teach me how to play tennis?”
From there, it was as good as over. Kim Clijsters is a player on a comeback tour, but she's never lost her afterburners, and she reeled off the final set with every bit of her vaunted fierce concentration on display.
Since turning pro in 1997, Clijsters has won three U.S. Open titles, reached the finals at Roland Garros in 2003 and the finals here in Melbourne in 2004. Her Waterloo seems to be Wimbledon, but after winning two consecutive Grand Slam events, who's to say she couldn't make a run at the gold at the All England Club this summer? If this is indeed the farewell leg of her tour before retirement, what a note to depart on.
And it's far from over for Li, if she can rebound mentally for this. She beat Clijsters at the last tournament in Sydney before the first Grand Slam event of the season, and she has the support of a massive nation behind her. And as of right now, she's been here before.