China’s Li Na won the Australian Open women’s title on her third visit to the final, defeating Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets.
Li, 31, the oldest woman to win the championship since the professional era of tennis began in 1968, won 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 against the 24-year-old Cibulkova in 97 minutes.
The fourth-seeded Li, whose only other Grand Slam title came at the 2011 French Open, lost in the championship match in Melbourne to Kim Clijsters of Belgium in 2011 and to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus last year.
“Finally I got her,” Li said, looking at the trophy. “Last two times was very close.”
Cibulkova was the first Slovakian player, man or woman, to reach the final of a Grand Slam tournament. Her homeland’s entire population of 5.4 million is less than the 8.3 million who live in Li’s hometown of Wuhan.
“This was just a fantastic two weeks of my life and I think I’m going to cry,” Cibulkova said during the trophy ceremony.
Li’s championship prize of A$2.65 million ($2.32 million) brings her career earnings to more than $15.7 million.
Li, who has won all 12 of her matches in 2014 and now has a 5-0 career mark against Cibulkova, had 34 winners in the match to 11 by her Slovak opponent.
Li broke Cibulkova’s serve in the opening game of the match, but then lost her own serve in the sixth game by ending with two straight double faults. Li broke again in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead, only to have Cibulkova break right back to force a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, Cibulkova won only one of five points on her serve and hit a backhand into the net on Li’s first set point.
After taking 70 minutes to win the first set, Li sped through the second set in 27 minutes.
Li’s path to the final was cleared when the top three seeds all lost before the semifinals -- top-seeded Serena Williams of the U.S. and Sharapova were fourth-round losers and No. 2 Azarenka went out in the quarterfinals.
It was the first time since 1997 that none of the top three women’s seeds had advanced to the semifinals of the Australian Open. It also was the first time since the 1994 French Open that no American or Russian woman reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament.
Li had her biggest scare in the third round against No. 26 Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic when she lost the first set 6-1 and faced a match point in the second set before coming back to win in three sets.
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