Li becomes oldest Aussie Open winner

19:30, Jan 27 2014
2014 Australian Open gallery
VENUS WILLIAMS: bowed out early in the first round.
2014 Australian Open gallery
EKATERINA MAKAROVA: celebrates her surprise win over Venus Williams.
2014 Australian Open gallery
DAVID FERRER: won through to the second round.
Nivak Djokovic gallery
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: got a first round win over Lukas Lacko.
Novak Djokovic
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Shirt changes likely common at this year's Australian Open.
Serena Williams
SERENA WILLIAMS: overpowered Ashleigh Barty in the first round.
Marcos Baghdatis
MARCOS BAGHDATIS: shows flexibility's important for a pro tennis player.
Yanina Wickmayer
YANINA WICKMAYER: beat Dinah Pfizenmaier in the first round.
Sabine Lisicki
SABINE LISICKI: had a straightforward 6-2 6-1 win over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the first round.
Caroline Wozniacki gallery
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: celebrates winning her first round match against Lourdes Dominguez Lino.
Caroline Wozniacki gallery
HARD IN THE HEAT: An official attends to a ball boy who collapsed during the men's singles match between Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain and Milos Raonic.
Caroline Wozniacki gallery
MILOS RAONIC: serves on an outside court with the Melbourne city skyline in the background.
Andy Murray gallery
ANDY MURRAY: had a comprehensive win in his first round match against Japan Go Soeda.
Marina Erakovic gallery
MARINA ERAKOVIC: hits a forehand during her first round match with Sorana Cirstea.
Serena Williams gallery
SERENA WILLIAMS: untroubled in the second round match.
Novak Djokovic gallery
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: hits a forehand during his second round match with Leonardo Mayer.
Roger Federer
ROGER FEDERER: reaches to hit a return to Blaz Kavcic.
Roger Federer
RAFAEL NADAL: fires down a serve to Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Andy Murray
ANDY MURRAY: trailing 5-1 in the third set, Murray wins 23 straight points to close out a straight sets victory over Vincent Millot.
Victoria Azarenka
VICTORIA AZARENKA'S: personalised shoes during her match against Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
Australian Fanatics
'FANATICS':cheer during Nick Kyrgios' match against Benoit Paire.
Maria Sharapova gallery
Maria Sharapova hits a backhand during her third round match against Alize Cornet.
Roger Federer gallery
Roger Federer has won through to the last 16 of the Australian Open in straight sets.
2014 Australian Open gallery
Li Na in quarterfinal action against Flavia Pennetta.
2014 Australian Open gallery
Eugenie Bouchard of Canada celebrates defeating Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals.
Agnieszka Radwanska gallery
Agnieszka Radwanska is through to the Australian Open semifinals.
2014 Australian Open gallery
Agnieszka Radwanska, left, shakes hands with Victoria Azarenka after their quarterfinal.
2014 Australian Open gallery
Grigor Dimitrov, left, and Rafael Nadal speak at the net after their epic last-eight clash.
Roger Federer
Roger Federer reacts after match point against Andy Murray.
Li Na gallery
Li Na celebrates her semifinal win over Eugenie Bouchard.
Rafa Nadal
Rafa Nadal crushed Roger Federer in straight sets, and will play Stanislas Wawrinka for his 14th grand slam title in the Australian Open final.
Roger Federer
Roger Federer heads to the Australian Open exit.
Li Na
THIRD TIME LUCKY: Li Na kisses the Daphne Akhurst trophy after defeating Dominika Cibulkova in the Australian Open final.
Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova
Runner-up Dominika Cibulkova and champion Li Na during the trophy presentation.
Dominika Cibulkova
Dominika Cibulkova pumps her fist after winning a point in the Australian Open final.
Li Na
Li Na stretches for a two-handed volley in the women's final.
Rafa Nadal
Rafa Nadal receives treatment on his injured back during the men's singles final.
Stanislas Wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka reaches for a forehand during the men's singles final.
Stanislas Wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka kisses the Australian Open trophy after his first grand slam victory.
Stanislas Wawrinka
Stanislas Wawrinka sits with the Australian Open trophy at the post-final press conference.

Seven months after giving retirement serious thought, Li Na made it third time lucky in an Australian Open final with a 7-6 (3) 6-0 win over Dominika Cibulkova to become the oldest women's champion here in the Open era.

Li, who turns 32 next month, lost finals to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and to Victoria Azarenka last year. In between, she won the 2011 French Open in one of the many firsts she's established for Chinese tennis.

Widely popular at Melbourne Park for her funny post-match interviews and wise cracks about her husband and his snoring, Li didn't disappoint the Rod Laver Crowd in her first victory speech.

She first thanked her agent, Max, "for making me rich," her coach Carlos Rodriguez and then her husband, former coach and constant traveling companion, Shan Jiang.

She told him he was "even famous in China."

"So thanks for him give up everything just traveling with me to be my hitting partner, fix the drinks, fix the racket. So thanks a lot, you are a nice guy," she said, pausing for the laughter. "Also you are so lucky, find me."

In both her previous finals at Melbourne Park, Li won the first set but went down in three. Against Azarenka last year, she stumbled and twisted her ankle, and needed a medical timeout in the third set after hitting her head on the court.

She had no such trouble against No. 20-seeded Cibulkova on Saturday night, racing through the second set in 27 minutes after taking the first in a tiebreaker.

Li's supporters were everywhere in the crowd, some with Chinese flags painted on their faces, others holding Chinese flags or giant signs painted with Chinese characters.

Her fans got her through the nervous first set, chanting, "Li Na, Let's Go," in Mandarin during every changeover.

Li opened the final by breaking Cibulkova, holding, then getting a breakpoint chance in the third game. But Cibulkova held, and then broke back in the sixth game thanks to Li's consecutive double-faults. Li broke in the 11th game and had a set point serving for the set in the 12th, but lost three straight points to ensure it went to the tiebreaker.

As Li began her roll in the second set, someone yelled - before Cibulkova served - "C'mon Li Na, bagel her!"

She did.

A half hour later she was holding up both thumbs to the crowd, and holding back tears as she hugged her Slovakian rival at the net. She went immediately to the side of the court to shake hands with her coach Rodriguez.

The diminutive Cibulkova, one of the shortest players ever to reach a Grand Slam final at 1.61-metres (5-foot-3), had four wins over Top 20 players on her way to the final, including a fourth-round upset of third-seeded Maria Sharapova and a straight-sets semifinal trouncing of No 5 Agnieszka Radwanska.

She had to pull the microphone down closer to her before her post-match speech.

"These were just fantastic two weeks of my life," she said, pausing to laugh, and then cry. "Hello to everybody in Slovakia. This means a lot for our country and I'm happy I can be the one here for Slovakia."

No 4-ranked Li, who reportedly has four-times more followers on her Chinese social networking site than there are people in Slovakia, had a good run through the tournament as other star players like Serena Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka tumbled out by the quarterfinals.

She opened with wins over the two youngest players in the tournament, then saved a match point in her third-round win over Lucie Safarova. In the semifinals, she held off 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, and never had to face a player ranked in the top 20 en route to the final.

Li said it didn't matter how she got there, only that she'd finally broken through to win the title at her favorite major.

Rodriguez had to talk Li into playing Wimbledon after she told him she wanted to retire in the wake of the criticism that followed her early exit at the last French Open. He encouraged her to just to play and see how she went at the All England club before making such a big career decision. She responded by reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the semifinals at the US Open and now breaking her drought in Australia.

On Saturday, she paid tribute to his calm, composed approach and support.

"Before the match he was telling me to relax, just think it's a match, don't think it's a final," she recounted, admitting that she'd even taken time out for a short afternoon sleep to help with nerves. "When he was coaching me, he always say 'believe in yourself.' He always believed in me, I never believed in myself. That was my problem."

Now she's already promising to come back and defend her Australian title.

"Finally I got her," Li said as she put a hand on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the first time. "Last two times was very close."

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AP