‘Aussie Kim’ takes home fourth Grand Slam ti­tle

Aus­tralian Open win over Li is Cli­jsters’s first non-U.S. Open ma­jor

The Washington Post Sunday - - TENNIS - BY JOHN PYE

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 ti­tle, 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 think they used to go up into the stands. I re­mem­ber her do­ing her speech there, 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. The out­bursts from around the arena were jar­ring.

“ They shouted ‘fin­ish her off!’ some­times even when we were hit­ting the ball,” Li said through an in­ter­preter. “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.

On Sun­day, Andy Mur­ray hopes to win his first ma­jor and end an al­most 75-year drought for Bri­tish men at the ma­jors. He will meet No. 3 No­vak Djokovic in the fi­nal. Djokovic leads head-to­head 4-3 but has lost the last three. Djokovic is the fa­vorite and won in Aus­tralia in 2008 — the last time nei­ther No. 1 Rafael Nadal nor No. 2 Roger Fed­erer was in the fi­nal.

Cli­jsters didn’t win her first ma­jor un­til 2005 — af­ter she’d lost four fi­nals. All the while, the Aus­tralian pub­lic re­garded her as one of their own. And not only be­cause she was once en­gaged to Lley­ton He­witt, the Aus­tralian who won two Grand Slam ti­tles and was ranked No. 1 be­fore Fed­erer be­gan his run. Cli­jsters is laid-back and re­silient, and the fans in­Mel­bourne no­ticed.

“In the past year peo­ple have been so sup­port­ive,” she said. “ They have been amaz­ing and I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it. I al­ways felt bad that I [didn’t] give some­thing back — once I got to the fi­nal and lost to Jus­tine — and now I feel maybe wor­thy to be ‘Aussie Kim.’ ”

With no Aussies mak­ing it past the third round at Mel­bourne Park, Cli­jsters clearly was a pop­u­lar choice.

Cli­jsters 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. Per­haps the pres­sure of be­ing the first Chi­nese in a Grand Slam fi­nal was get­ting to her.

Cli­jsters sensed Li was get­ting up­set with Chi­nese spec­ta­tors late in the sec­ond set. In the third, Li asked chair um­pire Ali­son Lang to in­ter­vene.

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 he next three games to re­gain con­trol.

HO/REUTERS

Kim Cli­jsters kicks back in the locker room with her new tro­phy af­ter beat­ing China’s Li Na on Satur­day.

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