Raise your hand if you had Li Na defeating Dominika Cibulkova in the women's final at the Australian Open. To anyone who raised their hand: You're lying.
The Aussie Open was supposed to be a chalk tournament thanks to the dominant play of Serena Williams coming in and Victoria Azarenka looking for her third-straight title in Melbourne. As for the field, it was described as a weak one that couldn't contend with either of the two powerful players.
Needless to say, it didn't go to plan.
Li Na's victory came on one final long point against Cibulkova after a dominant second set to pull it out. ESPN Tennis provides video of the final point on Twitter:
What the tennis world ended up with was a triumphant story for Li, who finally won her second Grand Slam after making it to the Aussie Open final for the third time in four years. As for Cibulkova, she proved that she is emerging as another force in the women's tennis game after defeating both Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska en route to the final.
With the women's bracket of the Aussie Open finally in the books, it appears the powers in the women's game could be making a shift. Before the season continues after the first Grand Slam of the year, here are a few lessons learned from the women's side of the bracket.
Williams and Azarenka Have Legitimate Competition
How many Grand Slams will Azarenka and Williams combine to win this year?
This somewhat goes without saying after neither player made it past the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, but let's go back to before the tournament started. The two came in as the best players in the sport, Williams having just defeated Azarenka for the Brisbane International title.
Both women were at the top of their games and were expected yet again to dominate all the way to the women's final. But after Williams suffered another injury in her defeat at the hands of Ana Ivanovic and Azarenka lost to Agnieszka Radwanska, the field looks much deeper than it was once perceived.
But according to ESPN, Williams hasn't fared very well in the Aussie Open in recent years:
Serena Williams won the 2009 and 2010 Australian Open, but since then has been eliminated in the Round of 16 twice and Quarterfinals once— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 19, 2014
As for Azarenka, she wasn't able to continue her rule over the Aussie Open and could come away as the biggest loser in the tournament. The Belarusian has shown that she can compete in other Grand Slams but hasn't been able to pull out victories in finals of any other big stage.
Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim gave his post-game comments after Azarenka was demoralized by Radwanska:
With two finals appearances in the U.S. Open in the last two years, she could very well contend for that coveted third Grand Slam title. But after being humiliated in the quarterfinals by Radwanska, the competition behind her looks much better than it once was.
Li, Cibulkova Emerging as Stars in Women's Game
There are certainly reasons to have overlooked Li coming into the tournament.
After winning just one Grand Slam back in 2011 at the French Open and being the bridesmaid in both the 2011 and 2013 Australian Open finals, she definitely wasn't considered a favorite to finally get the job done in the first big tournament of the year.
But with the win, Li not only showed that she can once again be entertaining on the court but is a comedic force off it. ESPN provides video of the Chinese player's post-match speech, in all its glory:
Can Na or Cibulkova win another Grand Slam this year?
Li admitted that she was very close to retirement last summer but has now become one of the biggest names in the tennis world. Her second Grand Slam title puts her in an elite group and could lead to success for the rest of the season as it has for several champions in the past.
While Li was wowing with her new approach and hilarious comments, Cibulkova made a huge statement with her play leading up to the final. Following wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 11 Simona Halep and No. 5 Radwanska, Cibulkova marked her arrival as a contender in future tournaments.
Following the final loss, Cibulkova spoke about her emergence in the tournament, according to the Australian Open Twitter account:
#Cibulkova "I was waiting for this for a long time. I am just 24 years old & I feel like my game is there to challenge big names. Why now?"— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2014
Along with her great play, Cibulkova will also see her ranking rise by a tremendous amount moving forward. According to Kevin Fischer, the WTA senior manager of communications & publications, Cibulkova and Na will assume new spots following their performances:
Though it doesn't determine whether or not the two will win another Grand Slam this year or even make another final for the rest of the season, Li and Cibulkova have shown that they are capable of brilliance on the court.
Both could contend in the future for a title and will be a tough out for even some of the best players in the world such as Williams and Azarenka. Parity is back in the women's game.