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."
[to top of second column]
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
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
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 favorite.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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