Li, the ninth seed, recovered from a nervy start to dominate the first set, neutralising ClijstersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ raw power and displaying the fighting qualities that had seen off world No1 Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the final.
But the Belgian found her range mid-way through the second set and as Clijsters gained a foothold in the match it prompted a collapse from her 28-year-old opponent, who became irritated by a section of the crowd.
Li then buckled under the pressure in the final set as Clijsters closed in on her first grand slam title outside of New York. “She did everything better than me in that first set,” said Cljisters. “Her ground strokes were heavier, deeper, she served better and she returned better.
“She was playing really well, probably the best she has ever played against me.”
Clijsters made more winners and frequently attacked the net in the second set, putting LiÃ¢â‚¬â€the first Asian player to reach a grand slam finalÃ¢â‚¬â€under increasing pressure. “I tried to do things differently to break her rhythm a little bit and make her think a little bit more,” she continued.
“I mixed it up a little bit, put some slices in, also hit a few higher shots and it made her make some unforced errors. And then she got a little bit aggravated and I just tried to hang in there.”
The win marks Clijsters’ fourth grand slam triumph and the 27-year-old was pleased with the manner in which she was able to swing the match in her favour after losing the first set.
“What gets you is that it’s so intense until that last shot and then all of a sudden it’s finished, then it’s just a big relief,” Clijsters, who will rise to second in the world rankings after her victory, added.
“The disbelief too that it’s over and the fact I was able to turn it around is what makes it so special.”
And Clijsters, who was a beaten finalist in Melbourne in 2004, was delighted to have finally won the title Down Under. “I will enjoy this win, especially here in Australia,” she said.
“It’s a country which I have always loved coming to and where I have always been well-received. I have been close to doing it for a few years so it’s nice to finally get it this year.”
Meanwhile, Li focused on the positives of her Melbourne efforts. “I thought I played some great tennis tonight,” she said. “But she played better than me.
“I am still happy with what I did today and proud of myself but she had more experience than me because she has played in more finals. Hopefully if I can play in another final I will do better.”
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BIOGRAPHY: Marcus Rashford