Li Na bt Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7-3), 6-0
Li Na wins maiden Australian Open
Third time's a charm for Li Na as she lifts the Australian Open trophy for the first time, having lost in her two pervious final appearance.PT2M18S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31g7q 620 349 January 26, 2014
Tennis is a game that places great store by hierarchy. In this tournament, the women's natural order was threatened and undermined as rarely before. In Saturday night's final, Li Na was set up for the last and biggest fall, and at first she played as if the idea was oppressing her. Then she and the game came to their senses. Emphatically, in the end, Li Na put the record straight.
Li Na's reaction upon winning said it all. It was at about the level of a regulation second round win. She raised her racquet, but did not leap, twirl or swoon. She hugged Dominika Cibulkova, clasped hands with one or two in her contingent, but shed not one tear. She projected not elation, but relief. This tournament was a triumph for her, but not necessarily this night in isolation. Cibulkova cried. As much as she would be loath to admit it, just to make the final was her major.
This was as assymetrical a final as can be imagined. It was Nos 4 versus 24, previous major winner and three-time finalist versus unheralded maiden, crowd favourite - almost pet - versus a player who was barely in the conscious of the tennis-dwelling public a fortnight ago. Li Na was the good player with the dream draw, beating two 16-year-old qualifers and, as it transpired, no-one ranked higher than Cibulkova at 24 to win this title. Cibulkova was the plodder who somehow had to beat a French Open winner and four top 16 opponents even to make the final, and did.
Li Na kisses her trophy after defeating Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets in the final. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Li Na had finely honed courtcraft and a fissile backhand. Cibulkova depended not on any one shot, but on dynamism, sputtering about the court like an escaped firecracker. Her name means "little onion", and for two weeks, she made the eyes of opponents of greater stature in all senses water.
Veteran versus journeywoman, short woman versus shortest; China versus Slovakia. Twenty-five times as many Chinese watched Li Na win the 2011 French Open as there are Slovakians. Only when counting sylllables did Cibulkova have the numbers.
For two weeks, Ciblkova's will had overcome all that weighed against her. Momentarily, it bore her on Saturday night. After a tentative beginning, she played Li Na on equal terms. But adrenalin is like a coach's pep talk; it will get a sportsperson only so far.
Li Na after completing a straight sets win in the women's final. Photo: Justin McManus
In truth, this final was far from a classic. In the first set, both players were nervy and erratic. The most significant points were double faults. Rather than bid one another up, they dragged each other down, and it was this that caused the set to run for 70 minutes. In the second, Li Na threw off the shackles, and 27 minutes was enough. She has form as a shaky closer, but this time was out of sight of her opponent, and she waltzed over the line.
At last, she could make the speech that she has twice had to pocket. In it, she demonstrated the natural humour that has so endeared her to the Melbourne crowd, and is a window onto the intelligence she brings to her tennis. "Thanks Max, agent, make me rich," she said. Then she turned to her husband, hitting partner and former coach, Jiang Shan, who has become a famous incidental in this tournament. "Thanks, my husband - famous in China," she said. "Thanks a lot, you are nice guy. Also, you are so lucky, to find me!" It is one thing to speak another language, quite another to be funny in it. Li Na gave us the last laugh.
So to Sunday night, and the billing is the much the same, Nadal v Wawrinka. The first set on Saturday night offered hope for Wawrinka and romantics. The second set destroyed it.