Tennis: Clijsters' steady hand holds off Chinese invasion
The global reach of tennis finds expression in the new rankings table, which features women from 10 countries in the top 10 positions.
But the frontier the marketing gurus really want to conquer is China, so there must have been much gnashing of teeth when Li Na wasted a one-set lead against Kim Clijsters on Saturday to fumble her first shot at a Grand Slam title.
Although China is developing a growing presence, with four women inside the top 100, this was its chance to plant a giant red flag. Had Li won, she would have boosted participation levels in the People's Republic, as well as the share prices of tennis's leading manufacturers.
Will she reach these heights again? Perhaps. A powerful striker, who squats so low to hit her groundstrokes that she almost scrapes the racket-head along the ground, she has just reached a career-high position of No 7 in the world. But she is also 28 years old, a little one-dimensional in her tactics and prone to losing her rhythm when the big titles are on the line.
Clijsters may be a year younger, but this was her eighth appearance in a Grand Slam final. That extra experience made the difference on Saturday, as Li started in compelling form before tensing up with such a landmark victory apparently within her sights. There had been no such turnaround when these two players met in the final of the Sydney International a fortnight earlier, where Li triumphed in straight sets.
But these grand occasions do strange things to people, as Andy Murray continues to demonstrate.
The second set began with four successive breaks of serve, until Clijsters took control. She used her extra mobility and that splits manoeuvre that only a few players are able to master on a hard court.
The margin of all three sets in Clijsters' 3-6 6-3 6-3 victory may have been identical, but it did not feel that way. The second set was the real struggle, taking 53 minutes, and the third was something of a romp as Clijsters won almost twice as many points as her opponent.
By this stage, Li was complaining about everything from line calls to extraneous noise, and directing angry bursts of Chinese at husband and coach, Jiang Shan.
Clijsters is still only ranked second in the world behind Caroline Wozniacki. But there is no doubt that she is the woman to beat at the Majors.
She has now won four Grand Slam titles, including three of the five she has contested since returning from her two-year 'baby break', and has a win-loss record in those competitions of 27-2. (© Daily Telegraph, London)