Clijsters goes walkabout as 'Aussie Kim' basks in her popular win

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The Independent Online

Some of Melbourne's Saturday night revellers must have woken up yesterday morning wondering whether they had overdone the celebrations the night before. Surely that could not have been the new Australian Open champion and those doubles-playing twin brothers they had seen wandering the streets just a few hours earlier?

Their eyes had not been betraying them. Kim Clijsters said yesterday that she and her husband, Brian Lynch, had joined the Bryan brothers for an early-morning stroll after their victories the evening before. Clijsters had won her first Australian Open title, beating Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, while Bob and Mike Bryan had claimed their third successive Melbourne crown, beating India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes 6-3 6-4.

"We caught up with the Bryan brothers for a little bit, trying to find a place we could go," Clijsters said yesterday. "We didn't find anything, but we walked the streets of Melbourne for about an hour, just laughing and talking."

Clijsters, who has been a crowd favourite here ever since her days on Lleyton Hewitt's arm, did not get to sleep until 3am, but continued her celebrations in good Melbourne fashion later in the day by going to the beach, where she posed with her trophy. She eventually headed home for Belgium, where she will arrive today as the new world No 2.

Unless Sam Stosur, Australia's world No 6, had won the title, there could not have been a more popular winner. Clijsters, whose sunny smile lights up stadiums around the world, reached the final here in 2004 and had been a losing semi-finalist on four occasions. At the presentation ceremony she said she felt she finally deserved the moniker of "Aussie Kim".

The women's game will be hoping that some new characters can emerge quickly to fill the vacuum that is once again developing at the top and will expand with Clijsters' eventual departure. Justine Henin has returned and gone again, there are doubts over the Williams sisters, Venus having retired injured here for the first time ever in a Grand Slam singles match, and Maria Sharapova has not won a major title for three years. Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva, current Nos 1 and 2 in the world, have yet to win a major tournament between them.