China's Li outguns Cibulkova to win Australian Open
China's Li Na overcame an attack of nerves and weathered a feisty challenge from Dominika Cibulkova before roaring to a 7-6 (7-3) 6-0 victory to win her first Australian Open title on Saturday.
Heartbroken as runner-up last year and in 2011, the 31-year-old struggled on serve and battled an errant forehand in a tight first set, before finding her range in devastating fashion to become the oldest woman to win at Melbourne Park.
Cibulkova gave up two match-points when the Slovakian pushed a backhand long and saved one of them when Li did likewise, but the 20th seed crumbled on the second to give the Chinese her second Grand Slam title after winning the 2011 French Open.
Asia's first Grand Slam singles winner, Li raised her arms in triumph and after shaking hands with her opponent, went straight to her section of the players' box to embrace her coach Carlos Rodriguez and members of her entourage.
"Finally I got her (trophy), last two times was very close," the beaming fourth seed said at the trophy ceremony.
"Congrats to Dominika, she had a great tournament. Max my agent, makes me rich, thank you. Thanks for Carlos, who always believed I could do it. We worked so hard in the winter.
"Thanks to my husband, now so famous in China, (my) hitting partner, fixes the drinks, fixes the racquets... You do a lot a lot of jobs. Thanks a lot, you are a nice guy. You were lucky to find me."
The pint-sized Cibulkova, who won plenty of admirers at Melbourne Park after upsetting Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska on her way to the final, scrambled hard but was simply overpowered by Li's crunching groundstrokes in the second set.
"These were just the most fantastic two weeks of my life and I think I'm going to cry," the 24-year-old said.
"I would like to congratulate Li Na, she had a fantastic tournament, she deserves to be here as a winner."
After a nervous start for both players, Li was the first to settle and unleashed a blistering backhand down the line to gain a break point in the opening game against her feisty opponent, who promptly double-faulted on the next point.
Under pressure from the counter-punching Cibulkova, Li notched two double-faults in a row to be broken back in the sixth game and the Slovakian then held with a big serve to move 4-3 ahead.
Li broke Cibulkova for a second time in the 11th game and had a set point on serve at 6-5 but the 20th seed survived to take the opener into a tiebreaker.
The temperamental Chinese found her range in time to march to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak but Cibulkova marshalled her defences with aplomb, scrambling to chase down everything and pulled back to 5-3.
Li then blasted a huge return to earn three more set points but only needed one of them when Cibulkova netted a backhand.
Once the first set was in the bag, Li appeared far more at ease and wound up a huge forehand down the line to bring up an early break point in the second and was soon 2-0 ahead when Cibulkova pushed long.
Growing in confidence, Li began to swing at everything and broke Cibulkova again to lead 4-0 before completing an emphatic victory in her third attempt at Melbourne Park, the Grand Slam venue she has long described as her favourite.
SECOND SET - LI NA 6 CIBULKOVA 0
Chinese fourth seed Li Na beat Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-6 (3) 6-0 in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday to win her second Grand Slam title.
Li, the beaten finalist in two of the last three years on Rod Laver Arena, added the Melbourne Park title to her 2011 French Open crown.
She moves up to number three in the world rankings after her triumph over a courageous Cibulkova.
Li Na fired 34 winners as against 11 by her Slovakian rival.
"This was just fantastic two weeks of my life. I think I'm going to cry," said a emotional Cibulkova after receiving her runner-up trophy.
"This means a lot for our country," added the 24-year-old Slovakian.
Cibulkova saves one match point but hits a forehand wide as Li Na seals victory wrapping up the second set in just 27 minutes. Li Na 6 Cibulkova 0
Li Na has two match point as Cibulkova commits an unforced error on her forehand return.
Cibulkova gets some respite with a forehand winner which drops off the net.
Li Na races to a 30-0 lead with a couple of backhand winners on either side of the court.
Cibulkova is at Li Na's mercy who is just one game away from a historic triumph.
Li Na bounces back from 30-0 down after opening with a double fault with some immaculate serves before taking a 5-0 lead by smashing a forehand winner at the net. Li Na 5 Cibulkova 0
BREAK! Cibulkova is broken for the second time as Li Na finishes with a third consecutive backhand winner. Li Na 4 Cibulkova 0
Li Na gets break point with a couple of backhand winners.
Cibulkova fights back with a couple of forehand winners before Li Na holds serve with a backhand winner to the corner. Li Na 3 Cibulkova 0
Li Na is getting into her groove racing to a 40-0 lead with the second ace of the match after coming up confidently to the net to unleashing a forehand volley winner.
BREAK! Cibulkova is frustrated after being broken following her 25th unforced error. Li Na 2 Cibulkova 0
Li Na gets a break point with a forehand winner down the line.
Li Na hold serve after being 30-0 down with her forehand winners coming to her rescue. Li Na 1 Cibulkova 0
FIRST SET - LI NA 7 (7) CIBULKOVA 6 (3)
China's Li Na overcame some poor serving and an errant forehand to capture the first set of the Australian Open final in a tiebreak against Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday.
The fourth seed Li broke Cibulkova twice and had set point on serve at 6-5 but the feisty 20th seed survived to take the opener into a tiebreaker on a cool, breezy night at Rod Laver Arena.
The temperamental Chinese found her range in time to roar to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak but Cibulkova marshalled her defences with aplomb, scrambling to chase down everything and pulled back to 5-3.
Li then blasted a huge return to earn three more set points but only needed one of them when Cibulkova netted a backhand.
Earlier, after a nervous start for both players, Li was the first to settle and unleashed a blistering backhand down the line to gain a break point in the opening game against the pint-sized 20th seed, who promptly double-faulted on the next point.
Under pressure from the counter-punching Cibulkova, Li notched two double-faults in a row to be broken back and Cibulkova held with a big serve to move 4-3 ahead.
Li Na wins the first set which lasted 70 minites winning a tie breaker 7-3 turning it around with foreand winners after Cibulkova had saved a set point. Li Na 7 (7) Cibulkova 6 (3)
BREAK! Cibulkova forces a tie-break after on her second break point with a forehand winner and forcing a backhand error. Li Na 6 Cibulkova 6
Li smashes a backhand out when serving for the set.
Cibulkova gets a break point as Li Na misses a forehand volley at the net before forcing deuce with a forehand winner.
Cibulkova is up 30-15 as Li Na commits unforced errors before firing in a backhand winner.
Li Na wins the first point with a couple of forehand winners as she serves for the set.
BREAK! Cibulkova is broken for the second time as Li Na regains the lead. Li Na 6 Cibulkova 5
Li Na gains two break points after an excellent rally before firing a backhand cross court winner.
Cibulkova is pumped up after winning the opening point with longest rally of 23 shots so far but is down 15-30 after yet another double fault.
ACE! Li Na hold serve with the first ace of the match. Li Na 5 Cibulkova 5
Cibulkova manages to hold serve and the lead after a tight game after a lucky net point off a backhand.
Li Na gets a break point with a fierce backhand but is let down once again by her forehand. Li Na 4 Cibulkova 5
Li Na forces deuce after a backhand winner to the corner while Cibulkova lose advantage with her fifth double fault of the set.
Li Na hold serve with some precision backhand returns. Li Na 4 Cibulkova 4
Cibulkova holds serve to lead for the first time in the opening set despite another double fault after racing to 40-0 lead with a powerful forehand winner. Li Na 3 Cibulkova 4
BREAK! Li Na is broken as she double faults for the second time. Li Na 3 Cibulkova 3
Cibulkova gets two break points as Li Na double faults for the first time.
Cibulkova puts pressure on Li Na forcing the pace during a long rally before firing a backhand winner.
Cibulkova holds serve despite a double fault after racing to a 40-0 lead as Li Na commits unforced errors. Li Na 3 Cibulkova 2
Luck seems to favour Li Na winning a crucial backhand volley off the net while Cibulkova appears to stumble as the Chinese holds her serve comfortably. Li Na 3 Cibulkova 1
Cibulkova saves two break points to hold serve for the first time as Li Na sprays a forehand wide. Li Na 2 Cibulkova 1
Cibulkova saves a break point with a forehand winner down the line but loses advantage as Li Na fires a powerful backhand.
Li Na hold serve delivering some backhand winners. Li Na 2 Cibulkova 0
BREAK! Li Na wins a nervy opening game as Cibulkova double faults twice.. Li Na 1 Cibulkova 0
Cibulkova opens proceedings by serving and concedes the first two points to Li with erratic returns.
We are just minutes away from the start of the 2104 Australian Open women's singles final.
Li Na has won the toss after Cibulkova called it wrong and the players have begun to warm up.
Slovakian Cibulkova is out on the court first followed by Li Na, both with big smiles.
Li Na has arrived and they are walking through the Avenue of Champions.
Cibulkova is jumping around inside the tunnel as she waits for Li Na.
The players are in the tunnel and the crowd is waiting in expectation.
Li Na of China is favourite to win the Australian Open as she faces Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova in Saturday's final at Melbourne Park.
Li Na's memories of her previous Australian Open finals are not fond ones as she prepares for a third at Melbourne Park on Saturday against first-time finalist Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.
In 2011 against Kim Clijsters, she took the first set before the Belgian rallied to clinch her fourth, and final, Grand Slam title. Last year's final was even worse for the Chinese.
She rolled her ankle twice, fell over and smacked her head so badly doctors had to administer a concussion test and then lost 4-6 6-4 6-3 to Victoria Azarenka.
"I really wish I can win the title," Li said on Friday when asked about how much it would mean for her to win after two previous failures. "I (am) always looking forward to play back here.
"I think I'm ready."
The 31-year-old Chinese, who became Asia's first Grand Slam champion when she won the 2011 French Open title, was close to not making it to the final.
She fought off a match point in the third round against Lucie Safarova before the fourth seed scraped to a 1-6 7-6 (2) 6-3 victory in two hours, 27 minutes.
Li said she had been had asked several pointed questions by coach Carlos Rodriguez about that performance, which had turned around her focus and propelled her into the final.
That third round match notwithstanding, Li has been rarely troubled in her path to the final though she has had one noticeable flaw - she has a tendency to take her foot off the gas when she has her opponent down for the kill.
In the semifinal against Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard she jumped out to a 5-0 lead then had to battle for the next four games as the 19-year-old sensed she could conjure a comeback to take a 2-0 lead in the second.
Li's experience, however, then kicked in and she won six of the next eight games to advance to the final against the diminutive Cibulkova, whose aggressive play at Melbourne Park suggests she is unlikely to let such an opportunity go.
At 1.60-metres (5'3"), Cibulkova is one of the shortest players on the WTA Tour, but what she lacks in height the Slovak more than makes up with a strong physique that allows her to match the heaviest hitters of the game.
Cibulkova was particularly impressive from the fourth round on at Melbourne Park, beating 2008 champion Maria Sharapova then destroying counter-punchers Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska.
The 24-year-old was impressive attacking her opponents' service game, especially on the second serve, and used her speed and footwork to run down potential winners or around short returns and hammer them back with a wicked forehand.
"It's not about how tall are you. Even if you are tall, it doesn't mean that you are 100 percent going to make it, you know," she said when asked if her height was a disadvantage.
"It's just you have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this."
Cibulkova made her first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros in 2009 and while she has been bothered by small injuries in the last few years, her inconsistency has been her biggest issue, which accounts for her inability to crack the top-10.
The 24-year-old has 21 career victories over players in the top-10, including two against top-five players at Melbourne Park in the last week, but was also defeated in the first round 10 times in 2013.
"This top-10 talk, I don't want to talk about it anymore," she snapped after her 6-1 6-2 demolition of fifth seed Radwanska in the semifinals.
"So many years that everybody (has) kept telling me 'you should be top 10; why (are) you not top-10?' I'm just not."
Should Cibulkova win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on Saturday, she would be the first Slovak to win a Grand Slam title and it would also be her first win against Li in their five career meetings.
"She has been in the finals of Grand Slam many times," Cibulkova said. "She has already won a Grand Slam, so she know how it is.
"It will be my first Grand Slam final (and) ... that's something beautiful.
"It's like a dream. So I will go just out there and play my best, try to do my best."
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