Li takes the extra step to win Australian Open

Sat Jan 25, 2014 8:55am EST
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By Nick Mulvenney

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - China's Li Na banished the ghosts of two Australian Open final defeats by overpowering Dominika Cibulkova on Saturday to win her second major title and give the grand slam of the Asia-Pacific its first Asian singles champion.

The 31-year-old needed a tiebreak to clinch an error-strewn first set but romped away with the second for a 7-6(3) 6-0 victory to become the oldest woman to lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

Li was the first Asian player to win a grand slam singles title at the French Open in 2011 and ended her 31-month membership of the "one-slam wonder" club when her Slovakian opponent sent a forehand long after 97 minutes.

Losing the final to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Victoria Azarenka last year, both times after winning the first set, had only added to Li's reputation as a formidable player with a major flaw in her temperament.

"At last I made it. Not like the last two times, always feeling one more step. But this time I did it so I'm really so proud of myself," the fourth seed rejoiced.

"In the French I was feeling I would just go for it. I didn't think about winning or losing. But this one, I was really wishing I could do well. And also maybe you guys didn't know how hard I was working mentally to make this one."

Cibulkova, one of the shortest women in the game at just 5ft-3in tall, had beaten four top 20 players, including third seed Maria Sharapova, on her fairytale run to her first grand slam final.

The 24-year-old dynamo was still smiling at the end of the final and described the tournament as the "most fantastic two weeks of my life".   Continued...

Li Na of China attends a news conference after winning her women's singles final match against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne January 25, 2014. REUTERS/Bobby Yip