The Australian Open is called the Grand Slam of the Asia/Pacific, so it’s only apropos that the first Chinese player every to reach a Slam singles final does it in Melbourne. Tonight, Li Na of China will try to make history against the favored Kim Clijsters in the first Major final of the tennis season.
The matchup is pretty even on certain levels. Both girls can really slug the ball from the baseline, and they are aggressive. They are both fit, disciplined and mentally tough. Both have had good success in Melbourne and tonight, they both go for their first Australian Open title.
Clijsters, the overwhelming favorite to win, hasn’t dropped a set en route to her eighth career Grand Slam final. The former “Aussie Kim” who lost in the 2004 finals to Justine Henin, was pushed in a few sets – really just first sets – but against Vera Zvonareva she really played well losing just six games in just under 1-hour, 20-minutes.
And with thoughts of another baby down the road this may be Kim’s last shot to finally win in Australia.
“I know this is probably going to be my last full season on the tour, and then we’ll see,” she said. “You know, it’s nice that I’m in this spot to reach the final, to play for the title. I think it’s something that is a great feeling to have, knowing that I’m not going to be able to come here for five more years.”
Li Na has taken a similar path to reach her first Slam final. The 28-year-old late bloomer ripped through her first five matches until a meeting with No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane had a matchpoint on her serve at 5-4 in the second set on Li but couldn’t put her away.
And comebacks have been a theme for Li.
In Sydney she overcame an early deficit to Bojana Jovanovski. And in the finals, she was down 5-0 to Kim Clijsters before she roared back to win the set in a tiebreak and eventually win the match and title. Last year, too, she was down a matchpoints at the Australian Open before winning.
“I always strong in the mind,” said Li. “I wish this time I not start 5 0 down, yeah. I mean, last year also I play here in the third round. Opponent also have two match point I save. So I come to the semifinal. So, you know, in China, we say you have tough time, but you come over. That means you have best of luck. So I wish it is come with me to the final.”
Added Clijsters of that Sydney final, “I think the first five games I played really well there. I stayed very aggressive, stayed on top of my baseline. But that’s something that she’s going to do as well. I think it’s going to be a matter of who’s going to be able to do that first. Who’s going to be a little bit more powerful and with the less amount of unforced errors is going to have the best chance to win out there tomorrow.”
The two have met six times in total and Clijsters does have the 4-2 lead, including three times already in Australia (Clijsters leads 2-1 all in Sydney).
Li Na has won her last 11 matches, Clijsters 10 of 11, that loss coming to Li Na in Sydney.
For the me the match between the lines is about even. Seo it will com down to experience and in this case I have to give the edge to Clijsters. Kim’s won three Slams before and she’s already been to one final in Australia. She also knows that she blew that monster lead in Sydney. So with the clock ticking on her pro tennis lifespan, I think Kim will seize the opportunity and get the job done in straight sets to win her fourth career Slam title.
The match airs on TV at 3:30am ET live on ESPN2.
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