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.
Four Canadians will be part of the main draw of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Not only are they competing in the first Grand Slam of the new tennis season, but they also have aspirations of winning a few rounds and ultimately getting a shot at a spot in the second week Down Under.
After reaching the Round of 16 at the Australian Open last year, his best Grand Slam result, world no. 25 Milos Raonic is being labelled a dark horse by the experts for the title in 2012. Fresh off his second ATP World Tour title in Chennai two weeks ago, a run which included two Top 10 wins over Nicolas Almagro and Janko Tipsarevic, Raonic is poised to make another splash in Melbourne. His draw did him no favours however, as he finds himself on a potential collision course with Andy Roddick in the third round and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. Raonic will begin his Australian Open campaign on Tuesday against crafty lefty Filippo Volandri. It will be the first meeting between the two players.
On the ladies side, one year removed from a heartbreaking loss in the second round to Francesca Schiavone that finished 9-7 in the third set, Rebecca Marino returns to Melbourne a different player and ready to overcome that second round hurdle this time around. The 21-year-old will start on Tuesday against Hungarian Greta Arn. Should Marino get through that match, she would face a tough test going up against either seventeenth seed Dominika Cibulkova or Magdalena Rybarikova, who defeated her in the final at Memphis last March.
Stéphanie Dubois is back after a stress fracture in her foot put a premature end to her 2011 season. She is appearing in her fourth consecutive Australian Open main draw and is hoping to pick up her first victory when she meets Russia’s Elena Vesnina in the opening round on Tuesday. Aleksandra Wozniak rounds out the Canadian singles contingent Down Under. 2012 is a big year for Wozniak as she tries to regain her 2009 form when she reached a career-high of no. 21 on the WTA rankings. She earned a spot in the main draw following the withdrawal of Timea Bacsinszky and surprisingly, is still winless in main draw matches in Melbourne. Just getting over a bout with bronchitis, Wozniak will open on Tuesday against Shuai Zhang of China.
Australia has not been very kind to Canadians in recent years in terms of tennis results, but be on the lookout for some Canadian flags on the scoreboard during the later rounds, they certainly won’t be there by chance.
Milos Raonic picked up right where he left off after a breakthrough 2011 campaign, winning his first tournament of 2012 at the Aircel Chennai Open in Chennai, India.
The Canadian rising star outlasted Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 7-6(4) in a thrilling, well-played final that eclipsed the three-hour mark and is an early candidate for ATP match of the year. The win is Raonic’s second ATP World Tour title after winning his maiden crown in San Jose last March.
Remarkably, there was not one break of serve in the match which saw Raonic hit no less than 35 aces all while maintaining a first serve percentage above 70 percent. The 35 aces is the fifth highest ace total in a final since 1991. In fact, the 21-year-old served 76 aces in four matches and was never broken in 48 service games. He is the first player since Roger Federer in 2008 to win a tournament without dropping serve.
Raonic defeated World No. 10 Nicolas Almagro in the semifinals and No. 9 Tipsarevic in the championship match and now has five career Top 10 wins. This is the first time in his career he has defeated two Top 10 players in the same tournament. Also of note, Raonic becomes the first player born in the 90’s to win two ATP titles, making him the favourite among the young guns of the Tour to make a splash at the Australian Open next week.
With his title run in Chennai, Raonic will move up to around no. 26 on the ATP rankings. The withdrawals of Robin Soderling and Marin Cilic mean that he could be seeded no. 24 in Australia, thus avoiding a match up with a Top 8 seed until the fourth round.
Last year in Melbourne, Raonic announced his arrival with a Round of 16 showing before falling to David Ferrer in four sets. The “Maple Leaf Missile” and his lethal serve seem poised to make another deep run Down Under and could pose a big threat in the second week of the season’s first Grand Slam event.
Nestor and Mirnyi win Brisbane
Another week, another title for Daniel Nestor. He and partner Max Mirnyi defeated Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner 6-1, 6-2 to win the Brisbane International and their fifth title together. The win is also Nestor’s 76th career title and his first triumph in Brisbane.
Meanwhile, wrapping up a rather impressive opening week for tennis in Canada, Rebecca Marino and Aleksandra Wozniak battled for close to three hours in the first all-Canadian match up of the year in the second round of qualifying at the Hobart International. Battling bronchitis, Wozniak pulled out a gutsy win, 11-9 in the third set tiebreak. The two players have met twice in the past four months and both matches went the distance. For the first time in a while, there seems to be a Canadian rivalry brewing, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.