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Old school: Li, 32, captures historic title

China’s Li Na is all smiles after becoming the Australian Open’s oldest women’s champion.

Associated Press

China’s Li Na is all smiles after becoming the Australian Open’s oldest women’s champion.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Seven months after giving retirement serious thought, Li Na made it third time lucky in an Australian Open final with a 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 win over Dominika Cibulkova, becoming 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 has established for Chinese tennis.

Widely popular at Melbourne Park for her funny postmatch interviews and cracks about her husband and his snoring, Li didn't disappoint the Rod Laver Arena crowd in her victory speech.

She first thanked her agent, Max, "for making me rich," her coach Carlos Rodriguez, 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 of her previous finals at Melbourne Park, Li won the first set but lost in three. Against Azarenka last year, she stumbled and twisted her ankle, and needed a medical timeout in the third after hitting her head on the court.

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

"Finally I got her," Li said as she put a hand on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

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

No. 4 seed Li opened the final by breaking Cibulkova, holding, then getting a break point chance in the third game. But Cibulkova held, then broke back in the sixth thanks to Li's consecutive double faults. Li broke in the 11th 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, and a half-hour later she was holding back tears as she hugged her Slovakian rival.

The diminutive Cibulkova, one of the shortest players ever to reach a Grand Slam final at 5 feet 3, had four wins over top 20 players on her way to the final, including a fourth-round upset of No. 3 Maria Sharapova.

"These were just fantastic two weeks of my life," Cibulkova said, pausing to laugh, 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."

Men's final result

Today's Australian Open men's final between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka started about 3 a.m. Eastern, so it's probably over by the time you read this. For the result, go to tampabay.com/sports.

Old school: Li, 32, captures historic title 01/25/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 25, 2014 8:45pm]

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