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Aussie Kim.

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.

6 Responses to “Aussie Kim.”

  1. naughty T....urbane gentleman said

    and speaking of LOVE… yes Kim is the fount of all goodness and light in the tennis universe for me at the moment (what was all that Oracene bullshit about??)
    No doubt that Kim had a Muzzard sized monkey on her back too about having only ever won the US Open. After the 1st set I really thought that she had succumbed to nerves and expectation again. It was great to watch her figure out the match and take the fight to Li Na. Truly exemplary and it made me happy to know that quite a few bitchy pundits would have to be swallowing their words about Kim’s willingness to get down and dirty and fight.
    Just a great final on the women’s side this year contested by the two best comedians on the WTA tour… and no sign of a plastic kangaroo.

    • AmyLu said

      There should be a like function. :) Completely agree with what you wrote, Naughty T.

      I think I was struck the most by Kim’s ability to dig deep and fight — pre-”retirement”, I don’t think Kim would have won this final.

      I would have been happy regardless of who won the final, but a huge part of me really wanted Kim to win a Slam other than the US Open. I think she’s talented enough, and I don’t really understand the criticism that she’s “only” won 3 US Opens. I’m sure many tennis players wish to have that problem. I don’t remember Rafter being criticized and crucified for having only won 2 US Opens even though he made the finals of Wimbledon. Maybe I’m just not remembering, but I’ve found it odd how so many people want to detract or discount the three slams she had already won. Anyway, I’m completely rambling and I apologize for that, but I’m very happy that she’s now won a different slam so that those criticisms will cease (although I’m sure now some of her stringent detractors will drumbeat about how she’s only won on hard, but whatever).

      • naughty T....urbane gentleman said

        indeed I think the detractors will always find something to bitch and moan about.. as a measure of desperate last resort there will always be the dreaded “no Serena” asterisk….. and isn’t it strange that the women will always get hammered more than the men?
        Let me make it clear that I would have been thrilled for Li Na to win .. but I cannot begrudge Kim cementing her place in tennis history with this win- because that is really what she has done. Now I am just hoping that she might hang on one more year before giving Jada a sibling.

        • AmyLu said

          In complete agreement with you. I’m also hoping Kim hangs on for one more year, but I will celebrate her whenever she decides it’s time to stop — and am very thankful that she’s given us all the tennis that she has.

  2. linz said

    I really think this tournament was a humongous success for the WTA. The biggest upsets were earned, not given. Kvitova was incredibly impressive against Stosur, as was Petko against Masha. The #1 and #2 both made it to the semis where they were beaten by players who rose to the occasion. Kim cemented her place in tennis history (the Slam at another major is important- just ask Rafa), and Li Na was the breakout star with her tennis playing and personality. Franny and Sveta gave us an all-time classic, and Kim and Caro both got some early cross-over headlines with their press handling.

    Seriously though- if you would have told me I’d be gushing over the women’s tournament after Venus was forced to retire due to injury in the 3rd, Dinara was double bageled in the 1st, and Justine retired from the sport forever I would have said you were insane. But the Ladies really stole the show, and all with their best player on the sideline. Awesome stuff.

  3. Kristin said

    “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.”

    Totally agree! Such a fresh comment on a subject that really has been done to death. But seriously, how awesome is it for up-and-coming female athletes that Kim Clijsters came back to tennis? Funny, though: in one of Li Na’s pressers, when asked about whether she wants to have a family, she essentially said she didn’t think she’d be able to come back to the sport after having a baby because she wasn’t ‘strong like Kim’! (Think she might surprise herself there, though I’m sure age has something to do with it.)

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