Australian Open 2014: Experience counts as Li Na has last laugh

Chinese proves too strong for debutant finalist in winning Australian Open at the third attempt

Melbourne

Li Na’s post-match humour has become as big a part of the Australian Open as 40C heatwaves and Lleyton Hewitt five-set marathons and in her finest moment here the 31-year-old Chinese did not disappoint. After beating Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 6-0 to claim her second Grand Slam title, Li took the microphone and thanked, among others, her agent, Max Eisenbud, and her husband, Jiang Shan.

“Max, my agent,” Li said. “He made me rich. Thanks a lot.” Turning to Jiang, who in the past has been the butt of her jokes about his snoring and their credit card, Li said: “Thanks to my husband, now so famous in China. He’s my hitting partner, fixes the drinks, fixes the rackets. You do a lot of jobs. Thanks a lot. You are a nice guy. You were lucky to find me.”

The Australian Open markets  itself as the “Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific” and could hardly have had a more popular champion, barring a home player. Li’s warm smile and engaging sense of humour have  endeared her to the public here. After her defeats in the finals of 2011 and 2013, the world No 4 had  the overwhelming support of the crowd as she took on a 24-year-old opponent playing in her first Grand Slam final.

Cibulkova, the first player representing Slovakia to play in a Grand Slam singles final, had a much more difficult route to the final. The world No 24 knocked out four higher-ranked opponents, including Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska, while Li, who will climb to No 3 in the world rankings tomorrow, had not faced any top-20 players.

The early exchanges were littered with mistakes. Cibulkova double-faulted on break point in the opening game and Li followed suit five games later. In her first three service games Li put just two of her 16 first serves in court. After two more breaks of serve the first set went to a tie-break, at which stage Li took command. Having won the first two points with a forehand return and a thumping backhand, Li won the tie-break 7-3, Cibulkova mis-hitting a backhand on the second set point.

The first set had taken 70 minutes, but the second lasted less than half an hour as Li settled into the consistent hitting that has become her hallmark. Although she has developed more of an all-court game since Carlos Rodriguez became her coach, her greatest strengths remain her athleticism, strength and ball striking.

 

After becoming the first Asian player of either sex to win a Grand Slam singles title when she triumphed at the French Open in 2011, it seemed that Li’s career had stalled. However, Rodriguez has returned Li to the very top group of players who can be expected to contest the major prizes. Tomorrow’s rankings list will put Li just 11 points behind world No 2 Victoria Azarenka.

Li, wearing a tee-shirt with Chinese script that read “my heart has no limits”, admitted in her post-match press conference that she had felt nervous in the first set of the final. “I was feeling that I didn’t show up,” she said. “I tried to hang in there till the end of the first set or the end of the match because I really didn’t want to show her or show myself [how she was feeling]. If you show something to your opponent maybe she will get the chance, so I really tried to stay calm.”

When it was pointed out that she was the oldest female champion at the Australian Open, Li smiled: “I’m not old. At the start of the tournament everybody was talking about age. I would like to say age is nothing. I’m pretty happy about my age. I can still win a Grand Slam. I have more experience on the court.”

Was she proud to have won the title after saving a match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round? “I think I should send an email to Safarova – and send her a smile as well.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits