AO Final: As It Happened
Published January 25, 2014 12:11
Has there been a more popular champion? Judging by Li's reception when introduced to the crowd at the presentation ceremony, it would appear not. Let the fun begin...
Her husband, Jiang, may not agree, but Li is usually pretty good value during her acceptance speeches, and today is no different, thanking her agent for "making me rich" and adding to Jiang: "Thanks for giving up everything for me, being my hitting partner, fixing the drinks, fixing the racquet. Thanks a lot. You're a nice guy. Also, you're so lucky for finding me."
Cibulkova is first up on stage to receive her runner-up trophy from 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert. She's had a great fortnight and after an hug from Evert, Cibulkova says: "I don't really know where to start. This has been a fantastic two weeks of my life and I think I'm going to cry."
The two embrace at the net before a remarkably calm Li strolls over to her box to celebrate with her husband, Jiang, and coach Carlos Rodriguez.
LI WINS THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN 76(3) 60! The winners are flowing from Li's racquet now. She saves two of the best for last, painting the lines with a pair of brilliant backhands. A dead net cord breaks a run of six points, but it's only delaying the inevitable as a net cord of her own helps her to championship point...
A heavy forehand return causes Cibulkova to balloon her own forehand long and it's all over!
Li 5-0: Try as she might, Cibulkova can find no way to stem the tide. Li recovers from 0-30 to hold and move within a game of her second Grand Slam title. The latest winner is met with a gentle nod of approval from coach Carlos Rodriguez.
Li 4-0: Cibulkova survives a Hawk-Eye challenge on the first point but is struggling to fend off the onslaught of winners from the other end. Winners 29 and 30 for the match bring up another break point which she converts with another superb return.
Li 3-0: Li can sense the title is within touching distance. Her second ace of the match gets her to 40-0 before closing out the game with old faithful, the down-the-line backhand.
Li 2-0: Urging herself on, Cibulkova wins the first two points. Once again Li pegs her back and when she bludgeons a short second serve for a clean winner it's break point. She converts it at the first time of asking when Cibulkova's forehand drifts wide.
Li 1-0: She's warmed to the challenge in her first major final and there are no signs that Cibulkova will be going down quietly at the start of the second. She makes inroads on the Li serve but Li fights back to hold from 0-30 down.
Li 7-6: Li races out of the blocks in the tie-break, setting the tone with three early winners. She swaps sides with a commanding 5-1 lead and a few minutes later the set is hers when Cibulkova dumps a backhand into the net.
6-6: Two forehand errors from Li and a framed volley opens the door for Cibulkova. Li momentarily closes it with a cross-court winner, before earning a set point, but Cibulkova eventually forces her way through when a Li backhand slumps into the net.
Li 6-5: Cibulkova wins a blistering first exchange. Li hits back with a forehand winner before a sixth double-fault and a cross-court backhand winner gives her two break points. She takes it at the first time of asking as another deep forehand draws the error.
5-5: Despite her struggles in the last game, Li continues to go after her forehand. She moves to 40-15 before drawing level with her first ace of the match.
Cibulkova 5-4: Fleet of foot - and mind - Li tracks down a drop shot before flicking her 11th winner of the match to force deuce. A pin-point return gives her break point, but her forehand lets her down and Cibulkova survives the danger.
4-4: A beautiful down-the line backhand winner from Li sets the tone for the game. Two more winners follow as the No.4 seed stops the rot.
Cibulkova 4-3: The No.20 seed is now flying around the court and starting to dominate the rallies. With her serve starting to find its spots and hitting the ball with real intent, Cibulkova holds with ease to take the lead for the first time. She has now won nine of the last 11 points.
3-3: The game opens up with the best (and longest) rally of the match. Cibulkova wins the 22 shot exchange and Li never really recovers, gift-wrapping the break back with two double-faults and a forehand that sails long.
Li 3-2: Cibulkova stays in touch with a comfortable hold. Not much to write home about from that game except a rare fumble from one of the usually flawless Australian Open ball kids. Oh and 'Pome!' number two.
Li 3-1: Are those missed chances in the last game going to play on Li's mind? Evidently not, a lovely down-the-line backhand takes her to 30-15, before a fortuitous net cord and an errant Cibukova forehand give her the game.
Li 2-1: And we have our first 'Pome!' of the night, as Cibulkova hangs onto her serve after facing a couple of break points.
Li 2-0: There's still plenty of tension out on Rod Laver, but Li looks to be finding her rhythm. A second winner of the evening from her favored backhand wing helps to consolidate the break.
Li 1-0: After a nervous start by both players, a double fault brings up the first break point of the match. Li pulls her backhand wide, but two points later she has the break thanks to another double fault from the Slovak.
Li wins the coin toss and elects to receive, so it's Cibulkova to get us started...
Right, it's almost time to get underway. Cibulkova gets a warm welcome as she steps out on court, swiftly followed by Li.
The head-to-head record is 4-0 to Li, the most recent coming last year in Toronto. Cibulkova, though, is in the form of her life, having already knocked out Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska. Can she add Li to this list or will Li finally get her hands on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup? All will be revealed over the next few hours.
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