No longer a one-slam wonder, Li Na says age is no barrier and hopes more tennis majors are to come.
A month shy of her 32nd birthday, Li is the oldest Australian Open women’s champion in history following her breakthrough 7-6 (7-3) 6-0 final triumph over Slovakian surprise packet Dominika Cibulkova.
Li’s popular victory comes almost three years after China’s tennis pioneer became her country’s first-ever grand slam singles champion at the 2011 French Open.
Bouncing back after losses to Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka in two previous title matches at Melbourne Park, Li also joins world No.1 Serena Williams (17), Venus Williams (7), Maria Sharapova (4), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) and Azarenka (2) as only the sixth active multiple grand slam champion in women’s tennis.
“You guys didn’t know how hard I was working for the mentality to make this one,” she said.
But she says she’s not finished yet.
Needing a Wimbledon crown and US Open title to complete a rare grand slam set, Li admits winning all four “would be the best”.
Five months younger than top-ranked Williams, the Asian superstar insists age doesn’t matter.
“At the start of tournament, everybody was talking about the age,” Li said.
“I would like to say age is nothing. Still can win the grand slam.
“So pretty happy about my age. I’ve got more experience on the court.”
Off court, too, with Li believing she’s better equipped second time around to deal with the pressure and demands of being a grand slam champion.
“Because first time, to win the French Open, I really didn’t prepare for that,” she said.
“I didn’t know what I should do after the win. Also nobody tell me what I should do.
“I think now is different because I prepared to win the grand slam.
“Also (coach) Carlos (Rodriquez), he has a lot of experience because before he was coaching for Justine Henin.
“We will talk about what we should do, of course.”
Apart from celebrate her eighth wedding anniversary on Monday with husband and former coach Jiang Shan, Li will leapfrog Sharapova to rise to No.3 in the world and says she and Team Li love defying the odds.
“When like last year, I say I want to be top three, nobody believe,” she said.
“Beginning of this year, I say I want to win another grand slam title; nobody believe.
“More important is I believe, Carlos believe, my team believe. That’s all.”
Li’s only defeat in her past 17 matches came against Williams in the final of the season-ending championships in Istanbul. One more title and she’ll climb above world No.2 Azarenka in the rankings as well.
“I will try to improve my ranking. Yeah, why not? Of course,” she said.
“I think I can improve. So many people think about, `maybe she will stay the same way forever.’ But I will change.
“I will continue to try the new thing if they can help my game.”