Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Kids still playing for all the marbles — literally

    Human Interest

    In this world of pompous athletes, overbearing coaches, money-grubbing owners and a win-at-all-costs mindset, it's easy to become jaded.

    Eli Murphy, right, leans in to give Sierra Ricci the traditional king and queen kiss at the National Marbles Championship in Wildwood, N.J. Both of Allegheny County Pa., they won the girls and boys championship of the 94th annual National Marbles Tournament. [Associated Press]
  2. Lightning takes defenseman Cal Foote with top pick in draft

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Former Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote said his son Cal lived in the locker room.

    Cal Foote, second from left, is welcomed to the Lightning by GM Steve Yzerman, far left.
  3. It's Rays' turn to pound Orioles pitching (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG - Ah, the fantastic four.

    The Rays smashed the reeling Orioles 15-5 on Friday, scoring a season-high in runs, to climb four games above .500 for the first time since July 1, 2015.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria scores on a triple by Logan Morrison during the first inning against the Orioles.
  4. Lightning journal: Plans set for 25th anniversary season

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — The Lightning revealed some of its plans for its 25th anniversary season Friday, including a ceremony to honor the 2004 Stanley Cup team.

    John Tortorella, in Tampa in 2014 for the 10-year Stanley Cup win party, will return next season for the team’s anniversary event.
  5. Rays designate catcher Derek Norris for assignment

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — C Derek Norris tied a career-high with three hits in Friday's 15-5 win against the Orioles then was designated for assignment after the game to make room on the 25-man roster for C Wilson Ramos.

    Matt Duffy is expected to resume his baseball activities once the stitches heal.