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Making the case for Clijsters and Li

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Few pundits should be surprised with Kim Clijsters' run to the Australian Open final. She was widely viewed as the one to beat after Serena Williams pulled out.

But Li Na is a completely different story. China is jubilating with her historic run after she became the first player from that nation to reach a Grand Slam final.

Clijsters will go into the match as the favorite and more experienced player. But if Li continues to play her all-out aggressive game, she is more than capable of causing an upset.

Our schooled scribe make the case for each player.


1. She's been here, done that

A victory in Saturday's final would be Clijsters' first Australian Open, but her fourth Grand Slam title. Clijsters struggled to get her first major, reaching four finals before finally lifting a title at the 2005 U.S. Open, but has won two of the four she's played since returning in 2009 from retirement and motherhood.

Her opponent, meanwhile, will be making her first appearance in a Grand Slam final. Give Clijsters a big edge in experience.


2. She's been dominant on hard courts

Clijsters currently holds three of the four biggest hard-court titles on the WTA tour -- the U.S. Open, year-end championships and Miami -- and will be looking to add the fourth on Saturday. Since her comeback, she's gone 54-7 on outdoor hard courts, scooping six titles.


3. She owns the matchup

Li Na won their last meeting in Sydney just a couple of weeks ago, but she was down 5-0 in the first set before Clijsters had one of her lapses and allowed the encounter to turn competitive. Overall, the Belgian leads their meetings 4-2, including a 6-2, 6-4 win at the U.S. Open two years ago.


4. She's over her mid-tournament slump

Last year, Clijsters tumbled out in a sea of unforced errors against the talented but unpredictable Nadia Petrova. This year, she had her slump against Alize Cornet in the third round, and survived. Her unforced error count hit 41 in that match, but has steadily dropped since, standing at 18 in her semifinal win over Vera Zvonareva.


5. The Aussie connection

Clijsters is still known as "Aussie Kim" -- she was adopted by the locals when she was in relationship with Lleyton Hewitt, and they never gave her up even after the two parted ways. She has a couple of other Aussie connections this year. Her green outfit has been designed as a replica of Evonne Goolagong's, an Australian and the last mother before Clijsters to win a Grand Slam. And on Saturday, Clijsters will be trying to win her third Grand Slam title as a mother and match the feat of another Australian great, Margaret Court.

-- Kamakshi Tandon

Li Na

1. She's got the momentum

Li's 11-0 record in 2011 is impressive enough. But even better for the 28-year-old, she topped Clijsters at a warm-up event in Sydney just two weeks ago.

Li reversed a 5-0 first-set deficit, boosting her belief and perhaps inflicting a little mental trauma on the Belgian. She's won two of their past three encounters on hard courts.

2. It's destiny

Li was a point away from exiting the tournament in the semifinals, escaping by crunching a forehand down the line against Caroline Wozniacki.

Li has also been one of the unluckiest players of her generation when it comes to injuries, missing large chunks of 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The tennis gods are repaying her.

3. She's got the game

Li is one of the hardest hitters in the women's game and thus, can hit Clijsters off court, not easy to do given the latter's great movement.

She's able to manufacture free points on serve, too. In the middle of the third set against Wozniacki, a fine returner, Li stepped it up, particularly effective with the delivery down the middle from the ad-side.

4. She's motivated

No Asian player has ever won a Grand Slam, so that should pump Li up considerably.

Further, Li joked Thursday she made it through the match against Wozniacki by thinking of prize money. She'll take home $2.18 million for beating Clijsters, double the remuneration for the runner-up. Imagine what Li, who loves the shops, can buy on the credit card then.

For the bulk of her career, although not currently, most of her prize money went to China's tennis federation.

5. Kimmy's futility

Yes, Clijsters has won back-to-back U.S. Opens, but she hasn't won a major anywhere else. In her only other appearance in an Australian Open final, Clijsters fell to Justine Henin.

The jury is still out.

-- Ravi Ubha