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Clijsters Withstands Li Na to Clench First Australian Open Title

Coming into this year’s Australian Open championships, most analysts tagged Kim Clijsters as the outright favorite.  Today, the Belgian demonstrated that they were correct in pegging her as the one to beat.  Clijsters fought off China’s Li Na 3-6,6-3,6-3 to claim her first major in Melbourne, the fourth of her career.

Subsequent to a love hold, Clijsters broke Li at love thanks to a net court winner and took a 2-0 lead in the opening set.  However, with Clijsters donating four straight errors after having game point, Li erased the advantage.  Later, serving at 2-3, Li overcame a 15-40 deficit to reach deuce.  Despite resistance from Clijsters, Li equalized the set at 3 all.  With Clijsters flubbing a forehand volley, Li arrived at double break point.  She capitalized and obtained a 4-3 edge when Clijsters dumped a backhand crosscourt into the  net.  After staving off a break point, Li consolidated for 5-3 and with a forehand crosscourt pass winner broke Clijsters for the third time to secure the set.

Clijsters was acutely aware that Li would not be an easy put away.  In the semifinals, Li salvaged a match point before upsetting world number one Caroline Wozniacki to become the first Chinese female to book a spot in the final at a major.  Moreover, just two weeks ago in Sydney, Li defeated Clijsters in the final.   More importantly, although this was Li’s initial major final, she was doing a great job at bottling her nerves.

In spite of two game points at the start of the second set, Li failed to maintain serve, double faulting to hand Clijsters the first game.  Yet, like in the previous set, on her second break point opportunity, Li provoked a backhand mistake from Clijsters to get back on serve.  Still, the very next game, with a crosscourt winner, Clijsters broke for a 2-1 lead.  Relentless, on her fourth break point, Li struck a forehand crosscourt winner to level the set at 2 all.  Then, Li obliterated double break point to hold serve for 3-2.  But Clijsters would not be denied.  Following a tough service game, Clijsters again was at double break point.  This time with a backhand down the line winner, the Belgian broke for 4-3 and ultimately consolidated.  Next, with Li gifting a few errors, Clijsters closed the set with another break of serve.

The decisive set began as the others; Clijsters following a love hold with a break at love for 2-0 and Li returning the favor to get back on serve.  However, by double faulting after having a game point, Li handed Clijsters a break point.  When Li’s backhand crosscourt landed wide, Clijsters stretched her advantage to 3-1.  Then, with four consecutive miscues by Li, Clijsters consolidated for 4-1.  From that point on, Clijsters buckled down and gave her opponent no free points.  Although Li guarded serve twice, it was all for not, she made no progress on Clijsters’.  Soon, with a love game, Clijsters pocketed the championship.

Since rejoining the tour in the summer of 2009, Clijsters is 7-1 in finals.  With her latest win, Clijsters will take over the number two spot from Vera Zvonareva whom she defeated in the semifinals.  Li will climb in the rankings from number 11 to 7, a career best.

Another Belgian made news this week.  Days after being ousted by Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round, Justine Henin underwent testing on the elbow which required surgery and led to the abrupt ending of her 2010 season.  Unfortunately, while in Australia, Henin damaged the elbow.  Because there is little hope that the elbow will respond favorably and allow Henin to play up to the “high” standards of the past, she has decided to retire.  Thus, there will be no ‘career grand slam’ for Henin.  The dream of winning Wimbledon will remain just that a dream.  The irony is that the very major which inspired her comeback was the venue where she sustained the injury.

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