Li Na no longer a one-hit wonder


In recent years, size has mostly mattered in women's tennis. Bigger has almost always been better.

Dominika Cibulkova, who is listed at 5-foot-3, was not blessed with the standard stature of recent champions.

"It's not about how tall you are," she told reporters after her semifinal win over Agnieszka Radwanska. "You have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this."

Although heart is something the 24-year-old Slovakian has never lacked, her opponent in this Australian Open final, Li Na of China, has been famously flighty when points began to mean something. Cibulkova was playing her first major final, but Li was appearing in her first Grand Slam singles final as the favorite.

No. 4-seeded Li, a finalist in Melbourne for the third time in four years, previously lost to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and to two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka last season -- both in three sets.

How would she handle the immense pressure in the Grand Slam she knows so well?

Well, after a nervous start, just swell. One month shy of her 32nd birthday, Li hammered out a 7-6 (3), 6-0 victory and hoisted her second major trophy. She finished with four more winners (34) than unforced errors, as tribute to her perseverance. And don't forget, she saved a match point in her third-round match.

When Cibulkova's loose forehand strayed long, Li simply stood at the baseline and smiled. After shaking Cibulkova's hand and accepting a hug, she walked slowly toward her box, scaled a chair -- and shook hands with all of her supporters, including her husband.

Afterward, she thanked those people in characteristically humorous fashion.

"Thanks for my agent, Max," she said of IMG's Max Eisenbud. "Make me rich. Thanks a lot."

She had praise for her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, and even her beleaguered husband, Jiang "Dennis" Shan.

"My husband," she said, smiling. "You are famous in China. My hitting partner, fix the drink, fix the racket. Thanks a lot. You are a nice guy.

"Also you are so lucky -- for me."

The last 30-something to win the Australian Open women's title was Margaret Court in 1973. Li, who won the 2011 French Open, has now left the building of one-hit wonders.

Consider her company in the hall of two-time major champions: Amelie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova, plus Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter, Marat Safin and Sergi Bruguera.

And then there are the one-timers: Marion Bartoli, Anastasia Myskina, Francesca Schiavone, Ana Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur, Andy Roddick and Thomas Johansson.

Coming in, it didn't seem possible. Serena Williams had won two of the past three majors, four of the previous six -- and nine of the past 21. But, for the second straight year, she was dismissed early, this time by Ivanovic in the fourth round. No. 2 Azarenka, a two-time defending champion, and No. 3 Maria Sharapova were also long gone when the final was contested.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...