China's Li Na weathered a feisty challenge from Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova before claiming a 7-6 (7-3) 6-0 victory to win the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam 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, surpassing Margaret Court's 1973 title at the age of 30.
Cibulkova gave up two match points when she pushed a backhand long and saved one of them when Li did likewise. But Cibulkova crumbled on the second to give Li her second Grand Slam title after winning the 2011 French Open.
Asia's first Grand Slam singles winner, Li raised her hands in the air in triumph and after shaking hands with her opponent, went straight to her player's box to embrace her coach Carlos Rodriguez and members of her entourage.
'Finally I got her'
"Finally I got her [the trophy], last two times was very close," a beaming Li 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 rackets … 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 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 the pint-sized 20th seed, who promptly served a double fault 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 broke Cibulkova twice and had set point on serve at 6-5, but Cibulkova survived to take the opening set into a tiebreaker.
The temperamental Chinese player 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 pull back to 5-3.
Li then blasted a huge return to earn three more set points, only needing 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. – Reuters