‘Aussie Kim’ set to dash Chinese dreams

Saturday, 29 January 2011 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters) - With a first Australian Open crown now inches from her grasp, perennial crowd favourite Down Under Kim Clijsters could find herself cast in the unfamiliar role of villain on Saturday as she stands between trailblazing Chinese Li Na’s own designs on destiny.

The genial Belgian in a pea green dress enjoys the fond nickname “Aussie Kim” at the Melbourne grand slam but if, as expected, she finds enough firepower to dash Li’s dreams of becoming Asia’s first grand slam singles champion, crowd celebrations may be muted from a public which has rapidly warmed to the Chinese player.


In any case, Clijsters knows that despite being tournament favourite she cannot afford any slips in her bid to shatter Chinese hopes and will not make the mistake of underestimating Li, who has firmly shed her reputation for mental fragility with her dream run in Melbourne.

“(In the past) she was never quite able to make it through a whole grand slam,” third seed Clijsters told reporters on Friday. “Mentally (now) you see a big difference.”

It remains to be seen whether Li carried out her threat to make husband and coach Jiang Shan sleep in the bathroom on the eve of the women’s final because of his snoring.

The ninth seed, who said the final also marked the couple’s wedding anniversary, blamed her slow start in the semi-final victory over world number one Caroline Wozniacki on Jiang’s nocturnal noise.

Clijsters, whose relationship with Australian player Lleyton Hewitt endeared her to fans Down Under, has won three grand slam titles and is in devastating form.

She is yet to drop a set on her way to a second Australian Open final, and first since 2004.

The working mum, who captured two of her three U.S. Open crowns after returning to the women’s game in 2009 following a two-year break, has shown scant regard for sentimentality.


She handed fellow former world number one Dinara Safina the dreaded ‘double bagel’ with a 6-0 6-0 first round blowout which left the Russian in floods of tears.

Her 6-3 6-3 semi-final victory over second seed Vera Zvonareva, whom she also thrashed in last year’s U.S. Open final, was no less brutal and she will replace the Russian as world number two when the new rankings are published.

Li, however, did upset “Aussie Kim” 7-6 6-3 in the Sydney final before the year’s first major and is in the form of her life.

Murray breaches Ferrer wall to reach final

ANDY Murray has the opportunity for another British sporting victory on Australian soil this summer, surviving a tense Australian Open semi-final for a shot at his long-awaited maiden grand slam tennis title.

Scotsman Murray fought back from a set down and the prospect of trailing by two to sweep aside Spaniard David Ferrer 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 7-6 (7-2) on Friday night.

It puts Murray into a men's singles final with Serbia's Novak Djokovic on Sunday night at Rod Laver Arena - right next door to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where England's cricketers ensured they retained the Ashes last month.

It will be 23-year-old Murray's second successive appearance in the Open decider, where he was beaten by Roger Federer last year.

Murray won a hard-fought semi-final in three hours and 46 minutes - his turning point coming in the second set tie-break.

Li hopes grand slam breakthrough will inspire Chinese

(Reuters) - Li Na hopes reaching the final of a grand slam for the first time at the Australian Open on Thursday will inspire a new generation of Chinese players to one day rival the number of Russians in women’s tennis.

The 28-year-old ninth seed will be the first Chinese to play for one of the sport’s four major singles titles when she meets Kim Clijsters on Saturday after upsetting world number one Caroline Wozniacki 3-6 7-5 6-3.

“I think maybe because right now I have got into the final, maybe many young players or children will see that and think, ‘maybe one day we can do the same or even better than her?’,” she said. “So some day they will feel more confident.”

International success also has a major impact on the development of sport in China, where the state-run system centrally distributes of funding and even athletes, and Li was hoping her breakthrough might influence the sports ministry.

“(Officials), not in the China tennis federation but over the federation, maybe they are not so interested in tennis,” she said. “But now, maybe they say, ‘Oh, maybe we should be looking at tennis’.

“So I think if we do better... more people will come to watch, more people will pay attention.”

Wuhan-born Li has been in the vanguard of Chinese women’s tennis since being persuaded to return from a two years out of the game to play for her province at China’s National Games.