Sunday, January 30, 2011

Red peril stared down at her from across the border. Challenged her with menacing intent, she did. Threatened to overrun the site that she had marked out to celebrate an Australian Open win to go with the three previous grand slam titles she had amassed. For, the instigator of this threat, Li Na, had designs on invading the territory that Belgium, Kim Clijsters, was mightily keen to continue occupying.

Clijsters wasn’t about to concede defeat easily despite Na’s differing opinion on how to proceed with hostilities. The Belgian had procured a 2-0 lead early in the opening set and appeared to be on course for her fourth major title. But, then, the advance began. Na had settled, after an early bout of self-doubt requested the presence of that most restrictive of hindrances, nerves, and forced her way ahead in the battle for the first set.

She was doing it in admirable fashion, too. Heavy artillery in the form of more than adequate ground strokes as she intently settled on a strategy of pounding the Belgian fiend into submission. Worked a treat, it did, as Na reeled off four straight games to lead 4-2. Clijsters had no answer to the power or depth of shot from the Chinese lady. Not only that, but, when Clijsters decided upon any form of rearguard action, Na steadied herself with some extremely effective defence.

Chased everything as if her life depended on it, did Na, never giving up no matter how difficult an assignment was. The Belgian was using the angles to take Na out of court, but, still, the red peril wasn’t about to cease with her efforts to make Clijsters play one more shot whenever possible.

This desire to never give in was never more apparent than in the eighth game. Down 15-40, Na fought her way back with her usual gritty determination to take the game and a 5-3 lead, forcing Clijsters to serve to save the set.

Which she couldn’t manage. Na was able to easily negotiate her way through the Belgian’s service game with relative ease to take the first set 6-3.

The showdown was going swimmingly for Na. Her much publicised liking for treating herself to a shopping spree after winning a match was looking a likely proposition. The Great Wall of China was on track for a visit to the great mall of China.

So she thought, anyway.

Clijsters had other notions of what would make for a delightful evening’s entertainment. In her mind, she certainly didn’t envisage anymore of what she considered to be Na’s indulgent forays, in the form of startlingly powerful ground strokes, behind enemy lines.

Clijsters had to put a stop to it, or she would fast be staring down the barrel of a quick and easy two set defeat. So, she fought fire with fire. Anything Na could do, she would do better. If Na was going to hit enormous winners off the forehand as she had been doing regularly, she would just have to outdo her. Which, slowly but surely, Clijsters started to achieve.

Initially, it was even-steven as neither player was prepared to back down. And it made for some gloriously entertaining tennis. A shortage of twenty shot rallies, there was not. And often, at the end of them, there would be a spectacular winner from one or the other of the combatants.

This was tennis paradise. Utopia had found its home on Rod Laver Arena. It was to become even more sublime as Clijsters launched a raging torrent of effervescent forehand winners that rained a storm of terror down on Na’s fast fading hopes of grand slam glory.

No sooner had the score been even at three a piece than Clijsters had ripped through Na’s defences to take the second set, 6-3. There had been a momentum change that had shaken the match to its core.

Torrid stuff on the front lines, then. Both ladies had each won a battle within the war, but Clijsters now had her foot planted firmly on the throat of her opponent. She wasn’t about to let her foe off the hook, either. Press on, she did, as she charged to a 4-1 lead. Na was rattled, now. Her concentration appeared to be shot to pieces. She was on the rack and stretched to her outer limit. What had once been an impenetrable defence was now being penetrated at will by her Belgian adversary.

She had snapped. There was to be no comeback. Bereft of ideas on how to counter the brilliance of the renowned front runner in Clijsters, her cause had nothing left to do but shrivel up and fade away in the face of an overwhelming onslaught from the popular Belgium lady.

It had been a hard fought match, but, Clijsters had finally prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Tears emanated from her visage, showing just how much the victory had meant to her.

Surely they won't last too long, as it seems that she will be the one enjoying the shopping spree. Though, there will be no need to use anyone else’s credit card as she now has a lazy 2.2 million to throw around.

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