Li Na wins Australian Open in 3rd trip to final

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She had to pull the microphone down closer to her before her post-match speech.

“These were just fantastic two weeks of my life,” she said, pausing to laugh, and 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.”

No. 4-ranked Li, who reportedly has four-times more followers on her Chinese social networking site than there are people in Slovakia, had a good run through the tournament as other star players like Serena Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka tumbled out by the quarterfinals.

She opened with wins over the two youngest players in the tournament, then saved a match point in her third-round win over Lucie Safarova. In the semifinals, she held off 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, and never had to face a player ranked in the top 20 en route to the final.

Li said it didn’t matter how she got there, only that she’d finally broken through to win the title at her favorite major.

Rodriguez had to talk Li into playing Wimbledon after she told him she wanted to retire in the wake of the criticism that followed her early exit at the last French Open. He encouraged her to just to play and see how she went at the All England club before making such a big career decision. She responded by reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the semifinals at the U.S. Open and now breaking her drought in Australia.

On Saturday, she paid tribute to his calm, composed approach and support.

“Before the match he was telling me to relax, just think it’s a match, don’t think it’s a final,” she recounted, admitting that she’d even taken time out for a short afternoon sleep to help with nerves. “When he was coaching me, he always say ‘believe in yourself.’ He always believed in me, I never believed in myself. That was my problem.”

Now she’s already promising to come back and defend her Australian title.

“Finally I got her,” Li said as she put a hand on the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the first time. “Last two times was very close.”

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