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Clijsters triumphs in Australian Open to deny China first grand slam title

Belgium's Kim Clijsters rallied from a set down to beat China's Li Na in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday, picking up her fourth grand slam singles title and denying China its first.


AFP - Belgium's Kim Clijsters came back from a set down to beat Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the Australian Open final Saturday, dashing Chinese hopes of a historic first Grand Slam singles title.

After a shaky first set, three-time US Open-winner Clijsters fought her way back to overhaul Li in a thrilling final in front of 15,000 fans at Rod Laver Arena.

The 27-year-old Clijsters went into the tournament as the firm favourite but was made to battle all the way by China's Li, who was hoping to complete her own fairytale and become the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam.

"Li and I have played some amazing matches over a number of years -- she's a tough competitor," Clijsters said. "It's been a great effort for her these part two weeks and I hope we can play many more Grand Slam finals in the future."

Li had been on the front cover of many of China's major newspapers as the world's most populous nation looked to the 28-year-old from Wuhan to create a piece of tennis history.

But despite looking the likely winner in the first set, Li faded in the third and became increasingly agitated as the match slipped away, complaining about comments and flash photography from the crowd.

"Tell the Chinese (fans), don't teach me how to play tennis," she fumed to the chair umpire, after being broken in the second set.

Clijsters had opened in fine style as she won the first eight points of the match, but once Li settled down and found her range with her dominant groundstokes, and her forehand in particular, she steadily took control.

After convincingly winning the first set Li began to struggle on serve and Clijsters took her chance to drag her way back.

The Belgian broke Li four times in the second set and twice in the third to wrap up a tense final in 2hr 5min.

It was the 27-year-old Clijsters' fourth Grand Slam singles title and her first Australian Open, adding to her three US Open crowns.

Remarkably, three of those titles have come after she returned to the sport following her retirement to have her daughter Jada.

Li, 28, has already made history by becoming the first player from China to reach a major singles final, which made her an overnight superstar on a par with idolised basketball player Yao Ming and hurdler Liu Xiang.

"It doesn't matter if I won or lost today," Li said. "I played my best tennis."

China's state-run media were awash with pictures and praise for the star, promising huge audience numbers in the giant nation of 1.3 billion, where the match was screened live.

Despite a chequered history with state sports authorities, Chinese Tennis Association head Sun Jinfang hailed Li as a "pioneer" who had already secured her position as one of the country's all-time sporting greats.

Li, whose tales of her husband's snoring and her shopping sprees have delighted fans in Australia, also reached last year's Australian Open semi-final before being beaten by eventual winner Serena Williams.

Li is projected to reach a career-high world number seven in next week's rankings, while Clijsters will rise to second behind Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki.

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