Aussie Kim home and dry with Down Under title

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The Independent Online

Eleven years after making her Australian Open debut, eight years after announcing what proved to be a short-lived engagement to the local hero Lleyton Hewitt and seven years after losing in her only previous final here, "Aussie Kim" finally lived up to her name.

Kim Clijsters has long been a crowd favourite here and Rod Laver Arena shared her joy as the 27-year-old Belgian won her fourth Grand Slam title – and first outside New York – with a 3-6 6-3 6-3 victory over China's Li Na. "Now I feel you guys can call me 'Aussie Kim' because I won the title," Clijsters said.

"Never come back" is the advice to almost every sportsman or woman, but Clijsters is the exception to the rule. In her first nine years on the tour, the new world No 2 won one Grand Slam title. Since beginning her comeback less than two years ago, having taken a two-year break to start a family, she has won three more.

If Australia, Belgium and most of the rest of the tennis world rejoiced in another victory for one of the game's sunniest players, the result was a bitter disappointment for the planet's most populous nation. An estimated 100 million Chinese watched on television as Li became the first player from her country to appear in a Grand Slam final, though it was the few hundred of her compatriots who had tickets to watch the match who might ultimately have cost her victory.

Li faded badly in the second set, when she allowed herself to be distracted by noise from her own fans. At one changeover she asked the umpire, Alison Lang, to tell the Chinese in the crowd not to teach her how to play the game. Three years ago at the Beijing Olympics Li told noisy local spectators to "shut up" during her semi-final against Dinara Safina.

Li said she never felt nervous on court but the world No 11 appeared tense at the start. Clijsters opened up with an ace and won the first eight points to take a 2-0 lead. But for the rest of the set, it was Li who took command and won six of the next seven games to take the first set.

However, Li then lost six of her next seven service games as Clijsters levelled the match and took control of the decider. The Belgian served out for victory as Li hit a forehand wide on the final point. "She did everything better than me in that first set [but] I saw her get aggravated and tried to hang in there," said Clijsters.

Li has emerged as one of the characters of the tournament, particularly with her jokes about her husband's snoring. Her parting comment at the presentation ceremony was aimed at him. "It does not matter if you are fat, skinny or ugly," she said, "I will always follow you, always love you."