Posted: Saturday January 29, 2011 7:14AM ; Updated: Saturday January 29, 2011 7:40AM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>INSIDE TENNIS

Clijsters' newfound domination could lead to historic season

Story Highlights

Kim Clijsters defeated Li Na to win the third Grand Slam title of her comeback

With Serena Williams out, Clijsters has ascended to the top of the women's game

The women's tournament was every bit as compelling as the men's in Melbourne

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Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters, long beloved by Australians, said she can finally feel right being called "Aussie Kim" with this title.
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SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim after Kim Clijsters' 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Li Na in the Australian Open women's singles final.

What stood out for you in Saturday's match?

At 2-3 in the second set, Clijsters changed rackets, and she lost three of the next 13 games. Li came out strong, but after about an hour everything turned. Clijsters' offense-defense combination was just too much. Yes, if Li Na had won, it would have been a huge story. And tennis would have loved to have a nice beachhead in China. But Clijsters winning three of the five majors she's entered since she came back isn't the worst storyline either.

Is Clijsters the best player in the world today?

Yeah, I think so, with Serena [Williams] and her injury being the asterisk. She's won three of the last six majors -- three of the last five she's entered -- and she's also won the tour championships. It's funny, too, because the knock on Clijsters was that she was too nice, too friendly to be that dominant champion. This was a really strong mental effort. She was down a set and her opponent was 12 points from winning and she didn't let her up for air. She's won the last few Slams and the year-end championships. I don't care what the rankings say, we know who the best player in the world is.

Do you look at Li as a one-shot deal or someone who can contend at majors in the future?

I wish she weren't almost 29 years old. There's no question she's got top-five talent. The problem for years has been she lets things come and go. The match was even a microcosm of that. She looked so good for the first hour, and then some of those return games -- especially in the third set -- made you kind of scratch your head. There is game there. She's a good athlete, but you only get so many bites of the apple at age 28 and above.

How will you remember this women's tournament?

I can't remember the last time the women's tournament was just as compelling as the men's. Yes, some of it has to do with no Nadal and Federer in the men's final, but some of the women really managed to distinguish themselves. Caroline Wozniacki didn't make it to the final, but she revealed herself personally. YouTube sensation Andrea Petkovic made a deep run. The best match of the tournament -- Francesca Schiavone's record-setting win over Svetlana Kuznetsova -- was a women's match. We flirted with a Chinese Slam winner. I'd say the women came out of this one pretty well. Sure, if you're the CFO, you'd like to see the Chinese champion. But I think it's important there's a clear-cut best player now. Maybe the post-Williams world isn't all that bad.

Any parting thoughts on the women's draw?

Any time someone wins the Australian, the inevitable question is, "Can they win the Grand Slam?" With Serena's shaky condition and Clijsters' game that translates pretty well to all surfaces -- she's been in the French Open final, she's won the U.S. Open three times -- it's not crazy to consider her as someone who can win all four in a calendar year.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim is co-author of the forthcoming book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games Are Won now available for pre-order.

 
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