Posted by gauloises1 on January 31, 2011
The dust has settled, all bets are in and it’s the bookies’ favourite, Kim Clijsters, holding the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. If you’d canvassed popular opinion before the tournament, I think most people would have picked Clijsters for the very position she’s in now. But it’s a credit to the Happy Slam (also known as the Oh Help Me God I Need To Sleep Slam) and the WTA that up until the last moment, it never felt like a foregone conclusion.
For the first five rounds, Clijsters did not look in imperious or unbeatable form. Ekaterina Makarova and a match-shy Agnieszka Radwanska both came nicely close to taking a set from her, and the fact that they didn’t really said more about them than Clijsters. Even in the semifinals, when she knocked off Zvonareva 3 and 3, that had more the feeling of the inevitable capitulation of Zvonareva in the big match than Clijsters imposing her will on the Russian. The sparkle of the tournament had largely come from the guts-and-glory play of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone, both of whom were out, and in Li Na she was facing probably the form player of the Australian Open who had accounted for Victoria Azarenka, Andrea Petkovic and world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. To summarise, neither in theory nor practice was this match as easy as Clijsters’ last two strolls through Slam finals and Li Na’s surrender of her serve to love in the opening game suggested.
Credit where credit’s due, and Li Na certainly showed up for this match; as the men’s final demonstrated, that’s not necessarily a given. After her initial nerves subsided, she played like a woman enjoying the greatest form and confidence of her career, dominating with her breathtaking all-out aggressive style. She defended and scrambled better than I’ve ever seen her, playing a real all-court game. Unfortunately for her, nobody plays that game better than Clijsters. Her defence is as ridiculously eyecatching as Djokovic’s, and when she starts to alternately bludgeon and find angles with her forehand as she did in the second and third sets, there’s almost nobody who can beat her.
There were moments in this match when the tennis was so fun I lost sight of the fact that it was a Slam final. As Kim’s reaction on championship point shows, she never did. Tearful, almost disbelieving, she looked like someone who’d been wandering in the wilderness a long time, not someone who won the last Slam and was a strong favourite for this one. It was a great surprise to see her react that way, as much as it was to see Li Na taking defeat in her stride and beaming as she talked about her husband and her supporters at home.
God knows, the “mom” angle is done to death when talking about Kim Clijsters, and it drives me crazy; from the hammed-up jaw-dropping amazement that a woman can combine life as a wife and mother with a successful professional career, as if women around the world don’t do that every single day, to the barely-concealed relief that she can be neither unfeminine nor a sex object, because she’s got a working uterus, Jada Jada Jada. Perhaps because it’s the first time that she’s really been pushed in a Slam final since her comeback, I saw with fresh eyes her balls-out competitiveness and willingness to fight, and fierce joy in winning. I love that those things can not just coexist, but reach their peak, in a woman whose family and personal life seem as happy and well-balanced as she does. It felt like such a healthy triumph, and I loved it.
Well done Aussie Kim.