Patience pays off for champion Li
10:33am Saturday 25th January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Li Na's Australian Open title was a long time in the making.
The 31-year-old defeated Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 (7/3) 6-0 to add a second grand slam title to the French Open crown she won in 2011.
But, while that came as a surprise to China's heroine, this was a title she has had her eye on for many years.
Li made her first final at Melbourne Park in 2011, losing to Kim Clijsters, and then was beaten again by Victoria Azarenka 12 months ago after falling twice on court.
The fourth seed was a big favourite to beat surprise finalist Cibulkova, and she said: "At least I made it. Not like the last two times, always feeling it was one more step. I'm so proud of myself.
"I would say I prefer this title. I prepared for this one already for two weeks.
"Every round, every day, I was thinking about what I should do. I prepared for if I played semis, if I played final what I should do.
"At the French I was feeling I just went for it. I didn't think about winning or losing. But this one, I really wished I could do well. Maybe you don't know how hard I was working mentally to make this one happen."
The Chinese player is one of the game's great characters and she had the Rod Laver Arena crowd roaring with laughter after receiving the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup from Chris Evert.
Li thanked her agent Max Eisenbud "for making me rich", and said husband Jiang Shan, always the butt of her jokes, was lucky to have her.
She said: "Actually I didn't feel I was very funny when I spoke. I was feeling this is normal, this is the way I have to thank the team.
"But after I finished people said, 'Oh, we love your speech'. I was thinking maybe I speak too much. Maybe next time I should speak even longer."
Cibulkova had only previously made one grand slam semi-final, and that came at the French Open five years ago, so Li, who saved a match point in her third-round win over Lucie Safarova, had big expectations on her shoulders.
The pressure seemed to get to her in an opening set that featured plenty of errors from both players.
At one stage Li's first-serve percentage was 13 and she missed the chance to serve it out.
But the fourth seed was the stronger in the tie-break, and that hurdle overcome, she raced through the second set.
Li took her second match point when Cibulkova hit a forehand long, and she admitted she had let her mind wander in the final game.
She said: "When she served at 15-40, I was thinking, 'Okay, after I win the match, what should I do?'
"But after I lost the point, I was like, 'Okay, don't think. Just focus on this point'. After I won, I was really, really excited. I think I had tears coming down. I tried to hug my team, but they were too high up.
"At the beginning of the match I think both of us were tight and nervous. I tried to hang in there. After I won the first set, I started the second much better."
Cibulkova, the 20th seed, beat Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska on her way to becoming the first player to represent Slovakia in a grand slam singles final.
"I'm really looking forward to going back home," she said. "In Slovakia it's a huge thing. I am happy I represented my country so well.
"I just lost the final but maybe tomorrow morning I will be 100 per cent proud of myself. But now it's just maybe 50 per cent.
"It was my first grand slam final and I'm proud of the way I handled it. I wanted to play my best tennis. It wasn't easy against her because she was playing extremely well."