Clijsters conquers home stretch

Kim Clijsters won her second straight Grand Slam title and the fourth of her career, struggling early before beating Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday in the Australian Open final. The result ended the outstanding run of Li, who became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam singles final.

Li appeared to become upset with some of the Chinese spectators in the crowd in the third set, and asked the chair umpire to intervene. She later complained about the flashes from photographers at center court.

US Open champion Clijsters was wiping tears from her eyes at the end. The win came in likely her last appearance at Melbourne Park — she said that 2011 could be her last full year on the tour. "I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim because I won the title," Clijsters said at the trophy presentations, referring to her crowd favoritism that came from her former relationship with Australian No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.

Looking at Li, Clijsters said: "I think we'll have a lot more tough battles to come, hopefully a few more Grand Slam finals would be nice." It was the first night match for Li at Rod Laver Arena, where the cooler temperatures after the sun sets usually makes the hard court slower. But Melbourne warmed up late on Saturday, making even the night conditions similar to what Li would have experienced in cooler day matches earlier here.

Li, with her courtside humour and bubbly personality, endeared herself to the fans here and around the world. Back home, she was a huge hit. "The Chinese fans were prepared to express their feelings and shed their tears of excitement. We were just one step from victory," China Central Television announcer Tong Kexin said Saturday. CCTV predicted that about 15 million people watched the match live on its sports channel.

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