MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An ultra-bright smile replacing tears of joy, Belgian Kim Clijsters celebrated her first Australian Open title by telling a packed Melbourne crowd: “Now call me Aussie Kim!”
But the third seed would not fully commit to returning to defend her crown next year or a swansong at the London Olympics, having already said 2011 would be her final full year on tour.
“Now I feel you guys can call me ‘Aussie Kim’ because I won the title,” a beaming Clijsters said after an absorbing 3-6 6-3 6-3 win over Chinese trailblazer Li Na in Saturday’s final.
Asked if she would be back next year, Clijsters blushed and said only: “Yeah, I hope so. The Olympics is what I was thinking of when I (came back) but we’ll see.”
Clijsters, the beaten Melbourne finalist in 2004, paid tribute to ninth seed Li, who gave the tournament favourite a working over in the first set.
“The first set, I thought ‘Wow! This is going to fast for me!’ It was tough,” said the four-times grand slam winner. “She was playing probably the best she ever played against me.”
Clijsters, who has won three majors since returning to women’s tennis in 2009 following a two-year break, found a way to win, the emotion getting to her after Li blasted a forehand wide on match point.
“(Grand slam victories) are all emotional,” said the 27-year-old working mum.
“What overwhelms me is that it’s so intense up until the last shot and then all of a sudden it’s finished. Then it’s just like a big relief.
“That I was able to turn it around is what makes it all so special,” added Clijsters, who buried head in her towel sobbing gently after it was all over.
Clijsters, hugely popular Down Under since a previous romance with Australian Lleyton Hewitt, thanked everyone from the ball boys to a local dentist who performed an emergency repair job on a cracked tooth before the start of the tournament.
“My tooth chipped off,” smiled Clijsters. “I was eating a rice cracker actually, nothing hard. Just a nice, soft rice cracker.