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Li Na feeling grand again after ending Australian Open jinx

When Li Na finally puts away her racquets, a career as a stand-up comic or speech writer surely beckons, but for now she is a Grand Slam champion again and loving it.

Li Na poses with the Australian Open trophy after overcoming  Dominika Cibulkova, left, in straight sets                      Photographs: EPA
Li Na poses with the Australian Open trophy after overcoming Dominika Cibulkova, left, in straight sets Photographs: EPA

Twice the beaten finalist in Melbourne, Li's 7-6, 6-0, victory over Dominika Cibulkova last night doubled her Grand Slam tally and on the evidence of the past fortnight, there could be more to come.

There would be a good showreel to be made out of Li's on-court speeches over the past few years, many of which have focused on her husband and former coach, Jiang Shan, who has seemed happy to be the butt of the Chinese's jokes.

But nothing has been better than last night's speech. "I'd like to thank my team, first Max Eisenbud, my agent, make me rich", she said.

She then moved on to a dedication to her husband, saying: "Thank you for giving everything up for me…you are a nice guy," before adding: "And you are lucky guy to find me."

At 31, Li is the oldest woman to win the Australian Open, but she remains one of the best athletes on the tour and last night, her experience helped her get the job done, even though she was a little tight in the first set.

From 3-1 up, Li was broken back but then having broken again to lead 6-5, she failed to serve out the set as Cibulkova, the first Slovakian woman to reach a Grand Slam final, hit back to force a tie-break.

"The beginning was a bit tough," she admitted. "But I think I started playing when the tie-break started. I was thinking: 'OK, now you have to go, otherwise it's going to be very tough for you'."

Once she had taken the tie- break 7-3, the pressure eased and Li won the next six games to add the Australian Open to the French Open title she won in 2011.

The first Grand Slam, which prompted adulation in China and a wave of new sponsors all signing multi-million dollar contracts, was a shock. This one, Li said, was all in the planning.

"I prepared for this one really," Li said. "Every round, every day I was thinking about what I should do. I prepared if I play semis, what I should do; if I play final what I should do, because I already have been in the final twice.

"In the French I was feeling I just go for it. I didn't think about win or lose. But this one, I really wanted to do well. And maybe you guys [the assembled press] didn't know how hard I was working mentally to make this one happen."

When the final point went her way, Li put her hands on her head, but did not react with wild celebration, simply smiling broadly as she walked to the net to commiserate with Cibulkova.

Was she in shock, or was it more relief that she had done what was expected of her against a lower-ranked opponent?

"When she served at 15-40, I was thinking: 'OK, after I win the match, what should I do'?" Li said, to much laughter. "It's amazing, I was already thinking about that. But after I lost the point, I was like: 'OK, don't think, just focus on this point'. After I won the match, I was really, really excited. I think I have teardrops still coming down, you know. I tried to have a hug with the team, but the players box was too high. I could not reach it."

For 20th seed Cibulkova, it was a step too far, but she said beating Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska to reach her first Grand Slam final gave her renewed belief that she could go one better in the future.

"I know I have the game, so this has given me a lot of confidence," she said. "I'm just 24 years old and I have already played in a Grand Slam final. I feel like my game is there to challenge the biggest names and to beat them, so why not win one?"

To think that Li Na was considering retiring when she arrived at Wimbledon last summer. In a few months' time, she might just believe she can win that too.

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