Li Na storms to Aussie title

  • Last Updated: January 25 2014, 14:58 GMT

Li Na won her first Australian Open title at the third time of asking with victory over surprise finalist Dominika Cibulkova.

China's Li Na holds the trophy aloft
China's Li Na holds the trophy aloft

Li, the beaten finalist in 2011 and 2013 in Melbourne, edged a nervous first set on a tie-break but was imperious in the second as she eased to a 7-6 (7/3) 6-0 win.

The victory gave the Chinese player her second grand slam title to add to the French Open crown she won in 2011.

Li, who had to save a match point in her third-round clash with Lucie Safarova, was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Chris Evert.

She said: "Last two times was very close. I'm so happy I won the title here and I cannot wait to come back."

The 31-year-old is well known for her sense of a humour and in a terrific on-court speech she also thanked her agent Max Eisenbud for "making me rich" and told husband Jiang Shan he was lucky to have found her.

Cibulkova struggled to hold back tears as she said: "This is the most fantastic two weeks of my life. This means a lot for our country and I'm happy I can be the one here representing Slovakia."

Li is hugely popular here and there was no doubt who the crowd were rooting for when the two players walked out onto Rod Laver Arena.

Cibulkova had only previously made one grand slam semi-final, while she had lost all four of her previous four matches against Li.

The 24-year-old betrayed some understandable nerves with two double faults in the opening game to have her serve broken.

The power of Li was really troubling Cibulkova, who at 5ft 3in was looking to become the joint shortest winner of a grand slam title in the Open era.

She dug in to save more break points and get on the board in the third game, and Li's struggles on serve eventually cost her as Cibulkova levelled at 3-3.

Li's first-serve percentage was only 13 and successive double faults gave the Slovakian the break back.

Li was the clear favourite in a grand slam final for the first time, having lost here to Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

More than 115 million people in China watched her beat Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final in 2011, and the expectation was that she would add a second slam title here.

When Li got into a rally, her groundstrokes clearly had more weight, especially her backhand down the line, which is one of the best shots in the women's game.

Her forehand was letting her down, but she cut down on the errors in the 11th game and got her reward with a second break.

But the 31-year-old could not serve it out, missing a backhand on set point, and into a tie-break they went.
This time Li took her opportunity, opening up a 5-1 lead and eventually clinching it when Cibulkova netted a backhand.

The crumb of comfort for Cibulkova, the first player to represent Slovakia in a grand slam singles final, was that Li had also won the first set in her previous two Melbourne finals and gone on to lose them both.

The Chinese player appeared determined not to suffer the same fate, though, and raced out to a 3-0 lead in the second set.

Most importantly, Li was staying on her feet. In last year's final, the 31-year-old fell over twice, twisting her ankle and then banging her head.

Li had cut her errors right down and Cibulkova simply could find no way to combat the extra power of the fourth seed.

She was now fighting just to try to avoid a love set, but a backhand long gave Li two match points at 5-0.

One went begging but on the second Cibulkova sent a forehand long and Li raised her arms in triumph.

Li was a big favourite win and afterwards she said: "At least I made it. Not like the last two times, always feeling it was one more step. I'm so proud of myself.

"I would say I prefer this title. I prepared for this one already for two weeks.

"Every round, every day, I was thinking about what I should do. I prepared for if I played semis, if I played final what I should do.

"At the French I was feeling I just went for it. I didn't think about winning or losing. But this one, I really wished I could do well. Maybe you don't know how hard I was working mentally to make this one happen."

The Chinese player is one of the game's great characters and she had the Rod Laver Arena crowd roaring with laughter after receiving the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from Chris Evert.

Li thanked her agent Max Eisenbud "for making me rich", and said husband Jiang Shan, always the butt of her jokes, was lucky to have her.

She said: "Actually I didn't feel I was very funny when I spoke. I was feeling this is normal, this is the way I have to thank the team.

"But after I finished people said, 'Oh, we love your speech'. I was thinking maybe I speak too much. Maybe next time I should speak even longer."

Cibulkova  beat Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska on her way to becoming the first player to represent Slovakia in a grand slam singles final.

"I'm really looking forward to going back home," she said. "In Slovakia it's a huge thing. I am happy I represented my country so well.

"I just lost the final but maybe tomorrow morning I will be 100 per cent proud of myself. But now it's just maybe 50 per cent.

"It was my first grand slam final and I'm proud of the way I handled it. I wanted to play my best tennis. It wasn't easy against her because she was playing extremely well."

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