Kim Clijsters wrote a story of heroic proportions on Centre Court at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night. The kind of fairytale she could tell daughter Jada before bedtime in the coming days and years. The Belgian is known for her heart of gold, but showed a competitive heart and desire that legends are made of in a dramatic 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 victory over Li Na in a rematch of the 2011 Australian Open women’s final.
The Round of 16 match got off to a hot start, but midway through the opening set, Clijsters rolled her ankle in the middle of a rally and the tennis world held its collective breath wondering whether Clijsters’ final Australian Open would end with tears of pain and disappointment. She walked gingerly back to the baseline on her heavily wrapped ankle after a visit from the trainer ready to give it a go. The task ahead seemed all the more daunting against a formidable opponent like Li Na and yet, facing quadruple match point in the second set tiebreak, Clijsters found a drive within herself that she probably didn’t realize she had. A winning lob on the fourth match point was particularly remarkable given that she had hit a poor drop shot to put herself in a vulnerable position.
After escaping the second set, Clijsters seemed to loosen up in the third and took advantage of her rattled and error prone adversary to jump out to a 5-1 lead. Following a few nervy moments of her own, Clijsters completed the miraculous comeback when Li Na hit a backhand into the net. She threw up her arms in triumph and disbelief as the crowd gave their “Aussie Kim” a well-deserved standing ovation.
“At one point you think, Okay, I’m just gonna go for it. Once I made that decision, I didn’t think,” Clijsters said about her decision not to retire after the ankle roll. “I just tried to find a solution for how I was feeling, to find a new tactic, tactical game.”
The match itself may not have been of the highest quality, but the significance of the end result far outweighed that. In the space of a set and a half, Clijsters added another chapter to her storybook comeback to tennis and her final season already includes a highlight that will be hard to top. As if she wasn’t adored enough already, this performance will endear her even more to fans around the world who secretly hope that her farewell tour never ends.
Prior to the start of the Australian Open, Clijsters gave an interview where she spoke candidly about how she still feels the presence of her deceased father in her life. Leo Clijsters was certainly with his daughter in her latest triumph and she has given him yet another reason to brim with pride.