MELBOURNE, Australia – Once again Li Na had the Rod Laver Arena crowd on its feet, roaring – this time with laughter.
Her encore to a 7-6 (3), 6-0 win over Dominika Cibulkova in the Australian Open title match Saturday night made her even more popular at Melbourne Park, where she’d lost two finals in the previous three years.
So she paid her supporters back with one of her best stand-up routines.
First she thanked her agent “for making me rich,” then her coach Carlos Rodriguez and then her husband, Shan Jiang – her former coach and constant traveling companion.
“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 told Shan in a rare public compliment, pausing for the laughter. “Also you are so lucky (to) find me.”
Li, who will turn 32 next month, is the oldest women’s champion in Australia in the Open era. She didn’t see age as a barrier, obviously, replying to a question on the topic with a smile and an opinion: “I’m not old!”
“Yeah, start of tournament everybody talking about the age. I would like to say age is nothing,” she said. “Still can win the Grand Slam. So pretty happy about my age. I got more experience on the court.”
Li lost Australian Open finals to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and to Victoria Azarenka last year, when she twisted her ankle twice in the second and third sets and needed a medical time out after hitting her head on the court. In between, she won the 2011 French Open in one of the many firsts she’s established for China.
In both her previous finals, Li won the first set but went down in three.
She had no such trouble against No. 20-seeded Cibulkova, who was playing in her first major final.
“Finally I got her,” Li said as she put a hand on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. “Last two times was very close.”