China’s Li Na wins Australian Open final
Li, thanks a lot.”
And speaking to her husband, who was courtside: “Thanks a lot, you are a nice guy. Also you are so lucky.”
Cibulkova said: “It was my first Grand Slam final and I’m just proud with the way I handled it.
“I wanted to play my best tennis but it wasn’t easy against her because she was playing extremely well, so I’m quite happy.”
Seven years older, with a 4-0 head-to-head record and facing a player making her Grand Slam final debut, Li had been a strong favourite against 20th seed Cibulkova.
In the event, it was a difficult call as to who was the more nervous in the early stages of the match.
Cibulkova double-faulted twice to give up her serve in the opening game, but Li handed it back in similar fashion at 3-2 after a dreadful start that saw her make just two first serves in the first six games.
The pair had shared 30 unforced errors in that time, and it was a question of who could string together something approaching their normal game to take charge.
Cibulkova opened the door once again at 5-5 with a double fault but Li could not serve it out, struggling with her ball toss as a set point slipped by.
It was the Chinese player’s aggressive start to the tie-break that eventually got her over the line, her backhand doing much of the damage as she moved into a 5-1 lead and sealed the set after a largely unconvincing 70 minutes.
Li could challenge Williams
“This time Li Na will handle winning a Grand Slam a lot better. She said after winning the French Open she was so inundated with requests she didn’t know how to handle it and her tennis suffered.
“The French Open is next, her favourite tournament, and she could win the first two Grand Slams of the year. Li may even be able to knock Serena Williams off the top spot. She has the game to do so.”
With the tension lifted and now swinging more freely, Li found her range at the start of the second and swept a winner into the corner on her way to an immediate break.
The forehand that had offered up 16 unforced errors in the first set produced just three in the second, and a barrage from that side took her to 5-0 within 20 minutes.
“Come on, Li, bagel her!” cried one voice from the crowd, keen for a love set, and she delivered.
A rasping backhand winner helped her to two match points and, when Cibulkova fired over the baseline on the second, Li raised her arms in delight at finally prevailing in a Melbourne final at the third attempt.