|Kim Clijsters poses after winning the women's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Jan. 29, 2011. (REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic)
Melbourne, Australia - Kim Clijsters bested Li Na to win the Australian Open crown Saturday while denying her counterpart's quest to capture China's first Grand Slam singles title.
The third-seeded Belgian rallied to post a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the ninth-seeded Li, who lost for the first time in 12 matches this year and had beaten Clijsters two weeks ago in the Sydney final. That marked Clijsters' first defeat in seven championship matches since she returned to professional tennis in August 2009.
Clijsters, though, exacted a measure of revenge and claimed her fourth major title -- the previous three all coming at the U.S. Open (2005, 2009-10) -- in her eighth Grand Slam final, including her second at the Aussie Open. She was a runner-up in 2004 to Justine Henin.
The 27-year-old Clijsters opened the match at Rod Laver Arena with an ace en route to taking the first eight points. Li broke back in the third game, then picked up a break to go up 4-3 before sealing the first set with a cross-court forehand.
It was the first time Clijsters dropped a set at this year's opening Grand Slam.
"She did everything better than me in that first set," Clijsters said. "I mean, obviously her groundstrokes were heavier, deeper. She served better. She returned better."
Clijsters said that she tried to hit a greater variety of shots after the first set, including slices and elevated shots that resulted in unforced errors.
The strategy worked, as Clijsters said she could see Li becoming a little bit aggravated. The server was broken six times overall in the second set, but Clijsters got on a roll in the middle of that frame. Down 3-2, she won six straight games to take the second set and establish a 2-0 lead in the third.
"After she lose the first I was still thinking, first set, she was playing more safe so I can have a chance," Li said. "But after [losing] the first set, I mean, she changed a little bit, like play more aggressive, so I was feeling little bit late or something."
Clijsters broke Li for the seventh and final time to go up 3-1 before the combatants held serve the rest of the way.
"To win it in this way means a lot," Clijsters said. "I think it's that moment that overwhelms you, where your mind has been so focused. I'm fighting every shot, running a lot of balls down, and it's finished. That's what makes it just nice, and I guess this big relief that kind of just, yeah, overwhelms you a little bit."
Clijsters, who is expected to move up to No. 2 in the world rankings, became the first player to capture consecutive Grand Slam titles since Serena Williams (2008 U.S. Open, 2009 Aussie Open). Clijsters claimed her 41st career title and her 32nd on hard court.
Li, the first Asian player, male or female, in history to reach a final at a major, was aiming for her fifth career title. Despite the loss, the 28-year- old will rise to No. 7 in the world rankings, a career high.
Clijsters improved to 5-2 lifetime against Li.