|AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD|
|AFP PHOTO / HO / FIONA HAMILTON|
As I predicted, Kim Clijsters of Belgium defeated Li Na of China in the 2011 Australian Open women's final in Melbourne 3-6 6-3 6-3 to win her first Australian Open title and fourth major title overall. Clijsters even her career record in finals to 4-all, and improved her post-retirement record to 3-0 in finals. By winning 4 majors, she moved ahead of Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Maria Sharapova. Li Na made history as the first person from Asia, and particular China, to reach a Grand Slam final.
The match ended up being much more competitive than most observers predicted, with Li dropping the first 8 consecutive points but breaking back repeatedly and going for her shots with comparable power to Clijsters. Clijsters repeatedly was unable to consolidate breaks of Li's serve. The Chinese player was able to take the first set by winning the last three games convincingly. Unfortunately, she lost her serve immediately at the start of the second set (in fact she lost her first service game in every set she played in the final) but then was able to break back again to even the score. This began a rash of service breaks which by the conclusion of the 9 game second set ended up being a majority of the service games (5). The third set began with a strong hold by Clijsters at love, followed by another break of Li's serve. The Chinese player was able to break back again but was unable to hold her service game again and fell back 1-3 in the deciding set. At this point Li started to look tired and made a series of forehand errors to allow Clijsters to go up 4-1 via another hold of serve by the Belgian. Li falls down 15-30 in her service game but through an important line call challenge is able to get to 30-30 and eventually hold to deny Clisters a second "insurance" break. Clijsters holds serve again easily to go up 5-2 and all signs seem to indicate the match will soon be over. However, Li holds serve concincingly at 15, forcing Clijsters to serve for the championship, which she does with three first serves and three return of service return winners, followed by a Li error giving Clijsters her first Australian Open title.