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01 December 2023

Clijsters breaks Chinese hearts at Open

Kim Clijsters of Belgium celebrates her victory over Li Na of China during their women's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. (REUTERS)


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

After a shaky first set, 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 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 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.