CHAMPION! Li Na has won the Australian Open women's singles title with a 7-6 6-0 win over Dominikia Cibulkova! pic.twitter.com/NVCycU6uv0— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) January 25, 2014
It was a real mixed affair, however. After a first-set tiebreak saw Li triumph, she tore through Dominika Cibulkova's defences and took the second 6-0.
The last woman to lose the first set 6-7 and still win the Australian Open was Chris Evert, who was present at the trophy ceremony this year. Cibulkova was unable to match Evert's feat, crumbling in the second set after showing so much fight in the first.
Speaking after the match, Li was her usual entertaining self, this time picking out her husband as the subject of her comedy:
#Li "Now husband. Famous in China. Gave up everything to travel w/me. Fix racquet, fix drink. Thanks a lot you nice guy. Also you so lucky."— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2014
Support was soon coming in from athletes all over the world, including three-time Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Rice, who was watching from the crowd and similarly taken by Li's acceptance speech:
Congratulations Li Na, actually the best acceptance speech I've ever heard. Great chick. Well done!! http://t.co/R8kAK4PHyB— Stephanie Rice (@ItsStephRice) January 25, 2014
It could have gone either way as the tiebreak loomed—the first in the women's final here since 2003—as both players had a break of serve. However, Cibulkova had five double faults in her first five service games, which showed the Slovakian's nerves.
Cibulkova got her nose in front 5-4 in the first set, but that was the only time she would lead in the match. Once Li had a break of serve in the second, there was going to be no other outcome in this final.
Once she got that two-game cushion, the immensely popular 31-year-old started to dominate the match, gaining confidence in her groundstrokes and never letting Cibulkova gather her thoughts and compose herself once more.
The world No. 4 looked every inch the champion as she took the ball early, hurrying her opponent into mistakes. While 6-0 implies a degree of submission from Cibulkova, the truth is that Li was just too good.
The closest Cibulkova got to a game in that final set was a 30-0 lead on Li's serve, but the score was soon 30-30 as Li worked her opponent around the court before finishing with an easy net winner.
She saved her best shots for the winning game, however, as a glorious backhand brought up 30-0 and a stranglehold on the title she had come so close to before.
She needed just one of her championship points and looked immensely relieved as the reality of her victory dawned upon her. Cibulkova, 24, can be incredibly proud of her performance in this tournament, but her inexperience let her down and led to some costly errors.
Does Li Na have the overall game to challenge Serena Williams?
Next for Li is the French Open, the scene of her first Grand Slam title in 2011. Winning in Australia is a dream start to the year, and her sights will be firmly set on recapturing the crown at Roland Garros.
Although she won't allow herself to look too far ahead—especially as she crashed out of the French in the second round last year—the main goal should be to build on her current ranking.
By the end of the year, her coaches will have their sights set of Li moving up to challenge Serena Williams. It's definitely a possibility, and although the sensible bet right now would still be Williams, winning the first two Slams of the year would really mark out Li as a contender.