MELBOURNE, Australia – In the immediate aftermath of most Grand Slam tournaments, winners spout clichés, shed a few tears and thank everyone they ever met and some people they do not know. There must be a manual for such occasions: thank, cry, cliché, repeat.
Then there is Li Na of China and the acceptance speech that came after her Australian Open women’s singles title, which she earned Saturday by defeating 20th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-6 (7-3), 6-0.
To her agent, Max Eisenbud, fourth-seeded Li said, “Make me rich.”
To her husband, Jiang Shan, she said thank you in the form of a roast. She appreciated his dedication as her hitting partner and liked the way he fixed her drinks and fixed her rackets. She ended by reminding him he was “so lucky to find me.” She said this on international television.
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Perhaps Li had a point. In victory, she secured her second major singles trophy; raised her standing as the most accomplished Chinese tennis player; and collected $2.31 million in prize money.
After speaking on the court, Li entered her news conference to a round of applause from reporters, who oddly toasted her with champagne and offered a “massive congratulations” and asked her when she realized she was funny. Someone mentioned her husband and asked whether he ever took offense to her remarks.
“If he say, ‘Enough,’ I think I would do worse,” she said.
Throughout the tournament, upsets had thrown the women’s draw into chaos.
The victims included top-ranked Serena Williams, the favorite; Maria Sharapova, a major contender; and Victoria Azarenka, two-time defending champion.
Li played 13 sets before the final and won 12.
Still, Li was remembered for what happened in last year’s final against Azarenka, in which Li twice tumbled to the ground and once hit her head on the court. In 2013, as in 2011, she had won the first set, stood one set from the trophy and faltered. The falls added embarrassment to the defeats.
Six months later, 31-year-old Li nearly retired. She said she was on the way to Wimbledon, in a car with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, and she floated the R-word. Rodriguez, the kind of mentor Li described as blunt, said, “OK, let’s go home.”
That answer caught Li by surprise. The 2011 French Open champion stayed. She played. She made the quarterfinals and no one mentioned retirement again.
The 5-foot-7¾ Li’s final opponent this time, Cibulkova, is 5-3, which would have tied her with two others for the title of shortest women’s major champion.
Cibulkova arrived at the final having felled a series of favorites along the way. She defeated the No. 16 (Carla Suarez Navarro), No. 3 (Sharapova), No. 11 (Simona Halep) and No. 5 (Agnieszka Radwanska) seeds, in that order.
Li managed to win the tiebreaker, despite 25 first-set errors and the fact merely half of her first serves landed in.
“I didn’t miss all the forehands,” she said, emphasis on “all.”
Not long after an easy second set, Li was asked what the Chinese characters on her shirt meant. The answer came back, and there was no punch line, only truth. It read: My heart has no limits.