Li Conquers Australian Open
Published January 25, 2014 12:15
Going into it everything seemed stacked in Li's favor - she had won all four of the pair's previous meetings, she had been to three Grand Slam finals before and two here, and she has always been a crowd favorite in Melbourne, having endeared herself to them with exciting runs the last few years.
Things couldn't have been closer in the first set though. Li came out stronger, jumping out to leads of 2-0 and 3-1, but Cibulkova broke right back and the two stayed neck-and-neck from there - 3-all, 4-all, 5-all - Li broke again for 6-5 and had a set point but missed it on a wide backhand down the line, and Cibulkova broke back to push the set to a tie-break. The tension on Rod Laver Arena was at its peak.
But that's when Li seemed to find her own peak - back-to-back winners, one off the forehand then one off the backhand, put Li ahead 2-0, and she barely looked back. She would take the breaker, 7-3.
From there it was no contest. The No.4-seeded Li stormed through the second set at love, never even being pushed to deuce in any game, and eventually closed out the No.20-seeded Cibulkova, 76(3) 60.
And so, Li made it third time lucky - she had fallen in her first two Australian Open finals, in 2011 to Kim Clijsters and in 2013 to Victoria Azarenka. Having fought off a match point in her third round match against Lucie Safarova, she's also the fourth woman in the Open Era to win the Aussie Open after saving match point (joining Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams, who did it twice).
But perhaps more importantly, the woman who became Asia's first Grand Slam champion at the French Open in 2011 is now a two-time Grand Slam champion. She will return to No.3 on Monday, the highest ranking ever for an Asian player, and she will only be a handful of points from No.2.
She'll also be No.1 in the Road To Singapore standings, which lead to the WTA Championships.
The two WTA stars kept winning the crowds over during the on-court trophy presentation.
"These were just two fantastic weeks of my life - I think I'm going to cry," Cibulkova said, smiling through a few tears. "This means a lot for our country and I'm happy I can be the one who can be here for Slovakia. I'd also like to congratulate Li Na - she had a great tournament and deserved this."
Cibulkova - the first player representing Slovakia to reach a Grand Slam final - also thanked her team, her friends, and everyone back in Slovakia. She also thanked Chris Evert, who hosted her at her academy during the off-season - and who presented the Australian Open trophies Saturday night.
Li was next up, speaking to the Australian crowd that has fallen in love with her the last few years: