While old rivals such as Venus and Serena Williams (injuries), Sharapova (a busted serve) and Justine Henin (a second retirement) fade away and a new rival, Caroline Wozniacki, is the latest woman to underwhelm as the world No. 1, Clijsters, 27, collects majors as easily as she does her little daughter's stray toys. In Melbourne she won her third hard-court major in the last four appearances, having previously taken the 2009 and '10 U.S. Opens. She also helped transform the women's draw into a version of Last Comic Standing. Clijsters set the tone with a humorous on-court confrontation with TV commentator and Hall of Fame doubles specialist Todd Woodbridge, chiding him in front of 15,000 at Rod Laver and millions more on live television for suggesting to another player that Clijsters might be pregnant because "she looks really grumpy and her boobs are bigger."
That Clijsters wound up playing China's one-woman comedy troupe, Li Na, for the championship couldn't have been more fitting. Li is a year older than Clijsters and, like the Belgian veteran, took a lengthy sabbatical from tennis to bring her personal life into balance. On her way to making history as China's first Grand Slam finalist, Li held forth on everything from her husband's snoring to her main motivation in tight matches ("prize money!") and her shopaholism. She held her own against Clijsters in the final until Clijsters changed the trajectory and pace of her ground strokes in the second set, throwing off Li's rhythm. (Exasperated with advice shouted to her by Chinese tennis fans during that set, Li told the chair umpire, "Can you tell the Chinese, 'Don't teach me to play tennis?'") Still, there was no disrupting Li's timing after the loss. When asked what she would do for an encore, she didn't miss a beat: "Retire," she said.
Clijsters was serious, however, when she talked about the end of her career. With her daughter, Jada, about to start school, Clijsters doesn't see herself playing much past the 2012 Olympics. "We'll see what happens after that," she says. "Right now, I'm enjoying this moment."
Djokovic has enjoyed just about every moment since he led Serbia to its first Davis Cup victory, two months ago in Belgrade. The camaraderie of that squad and its success against the world's best teams boosted Djokovic's confidence and national pride and renewed his appreciation for his entourage and the sacrifices it makes for his success. Few members have sacrificed as much as Vajda, who at times has had to take a backseat to outside coaching consultants (most recently former world No. 4 Todd Martin) as Djokovic cast about for help in rebuilding his service motion. In the end Djokovic dumped the extra advisers and went back to Vajda's original form—mastering it, he says, with a lot of practice and even more positive thinking—and added acupuncturist Igor Cetojevic to his camp to function as his sports psychologist. "It's their effort," Djokovic says of his team, "that makes me play my best tennis."
It all came together in the final against Murray. After struggling to a 5--4 lead in the first 52 minutes of the match, Djokovic won a breathtaking 39-stroke rally and broke Murray for the set. Then he allowed the Scot just two points during a 5--0 run in the second set. As Djokovic prepared to serve for the championship at 5--3 in the third set, however, he was jolted by an image of the trophy that flashed on the big screen during the changeover. He took furious swigs from his water bottles and fiddled with the caps to restore his focus, and five points later he induced Murray to net a forehand on match point. After hugging his beaten foe, Djokovic stripped down to his shorts, repaired to his bench, craned his head back and let the moment wash over him.
He was careful not to go overboard in his celebration on the court—partly, he says, out of respect for Murray, who has not won a set in three Grand Slam finals—but he didn't hold back in the locker room. Waiting for him inside was his entourage and a two-man band direct from Serbia. Their two-hour jam session provided the sound track to a raucous party that sucked in tournament staff members and sponsors. When Djokovic set his trophy on the floor and locked arms with others to dance around it, he looked for all the world like a kid again.
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