Sunday, January 22, 2012


That is what the 11th seed Belgian Kim Clijsters did today in her 4th Round Women's Singles match against 5th seed Chinese Na Li at the Australian Open today - beating her before she'd actually beaten her! I had expected it to be a good match, a replay of the title clash of last year... but it was much better than what I had bargained for!

I did not see the entire match... missed the first set completely! But as it so transpired, that is when the real beauty of the match unfolded! Na Li had won the first set 6-4, and Kim Clijsters had apparently injured her ankle, and had needed attention to it. The Chinese then broke early in the second set, and looked set for a revenge win.

But then a fightback ensued... Clijsters broke back, and they went along till the tie break. That second set tie-break was truly epic - a brilliant battle of wills! Na Li took an early lead in the tie break, and at the change of sides, she led 4-2.

Then she took a couple of more points - one of each woman's serve - to have four match points at 6-2. Her destiny was in her hands, and 2 of those 4 match points were to be on her own serve! But then madness ensued... two errors from Na Li and a forehand winner from Kim Clijsters slashed it down to just 1 match point.

And that was followed by a brilliant exchange of strokes dominated by Kim Clijsters. She made Na Li move from side to side, then drew her to the net, and finished it off with a stunning lob that the Chinese did not even make an attempt to retrieve.

The Chinese camp was suddenly silent... stunned into silence would be more like it! A change of sides must have raised some hope since it gave Na Li some time to gather back her wits and have a sip of her drink. It was to prove to be in no avail... as Clijsters calmly won the next 2 points, and this 4th Round match seemed to be headed the same way as last year's finals!

Eventually, Clijsters took advantage of the momentum to race ahead to 5-1 in the deciding set, and then following a brief fightback from Na Li, sealed it at 6-4. She will now meet the current world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the Quarterfinals.

The Belgian mother won that match with that stunning lob. All through the remaining part of the match, Na Li wore a beaten expression on her face... and the desperation of her efforts showed that she knew she was far away from victory. She virtually tried to hit a winner on every ball, especially if it was on her forehand, in the third set. And except for a brief period where she rallied to win 3 games including a break of serve, most of those attempted-winners did not connect to her liking. Clijsters had well and truly gotten into her head!

It must have been a difficult experience for the Chinese, who had lost the finals here last year in a very similar manner - taking the first set, before losing the next two. But what a tremendous effort by the Belgian! To keep your head while facing 4 match points against you, as a defending champion participating in your last ever Australian Open event in front of a crowd that has loved her and supported her as half-an-Aussie, and then complete that turnaround was an effort that cannot be described in words!

What a match! Hope there are some more of these in this business end of the Australian Open 2012!

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