Kim Clijsters poses with her Australian Open at Brighton Beach in Melbourne
(Reuters) - Kim Clijsters drew on her huge wealth of experience to ride out a Li Na storm and claim her maiden Australian Open title Saturday by shattering China's dream of a first grand slam champion.
The Belgian battled back after dropping the first set to beat Li 3-6 6-3 6-3 in an intense final and win her fourth major title, her third since her return from retirement and a first outside the U.S. Open.
The girl, who Australians had taken to their hearts when she was romantically involved with local hero Lleyton Hewitt, had returned a woman and a mother and she basked, teary-eyed, in the warm applause from the center court crowd.
"Now I feel you guys can call me 'Aussie Kim' because I won the title," said Clijsters, who lost the 2004 final.
Her triumph had looked unlikely when Li, Asia's first finalist in any of the sport's four majors, overcame her customary poor start to dominate most of the first two sets and genuinely rattle the tournament favorite.
Where the younger Clijsters might have crumbled, however, she now merely made subtle adjustments to her game to knock the powerful Li off her stride and in the deciding set it was the Chinese whose mental frailities betrayed her.
The 27-year-old Clijsters rattled through the third set in just over half an hour before claiming victory when Li slapped a forehand into the net for her 40th unforced error of the two hour five minute contest.
"It was such an intense match," Clijsters added, explaining her tears. "I don't think I had that in one of the grand slams where I've won. To win it in this way means it a lot.
"I think it's that moment that overwhelms you, where your mind has been so focused, I'm fighting every shot, running a lot of balls down, and it's finished. That's what makes it just nice, and I guess this big relief."
Li, who had come back from 5-0 down in the first set to upset Clijsters in the final of the Sydney warm-up tournament two weeks ago, again gave her opponent a head start by failing to win a point in the first two games of the match.
Despite the Sydney defeat, Clijsters had still entered the tournament as favorite in the absence of injured 2010 champion Serena Williams, after she beat former world number one Dinara Safina 6-0 6-0 in the first round.