Experts' predictions: Women's final
Kim Clijsters (above) owns a 4-2 edge in the head-to-head series with Li Na, but lost when they met in the Sydney final earlier this month. (AP)
We asked SI.com's experts to predict Saturday's Australian Open women's final between No. 3 Kim Clijsters and No. 9 Li Na (3 a.m. ET, ESPN2). Here's what they said:
Much as anyone invested in tennis is intrigued/tantalized by the prospect of Li Na becoming the first Asian major winner, it’s hard to pick against Kim Clijsters. She’s looked sharp for six rounds; she won the previous hardcourt major; she hits a slightly bigger ball than the opponent. The wild-card factor, too, is how Li will handle the occasion of her first final -- and added pressure that comes with drawing viewership that might well eclipse the Super Bowl’s. My (untattooed) heart says Li Na; head says Kim. Clijsters in two.
Kim has absolutely no pressure on her, all the experience, a finely-tuned game -- plus the bonus of knowing that anything she does from here on in will only narrow the career gap between herself and now-retired rival Justine Henin. Clijsters has all the tools to handle Li Na's stinging groundstrokes and blunt her aggression, and I've just got to think that all that history and cultural weight will combine to bring Li up short. Clijsters in two.
Clijsters was my pre-tournament pick, but there's something about Li's resolve, her pursuit of history and her tremendous spirit. She came back from match point to beat Wozniacki, boldly hitting out with utter disregard for the consequences. It will be a glorious night for China. Li in three.
Li's run in Australia has been terrific theater and her charming post-match interview after the semis was one of the highlights of the fortnight. But I suspect her lack of championship experience will be the difference against an opponent who is steely in big moments. Clijsters in straights, but what a run for China's newest star. Clijsters in two.
Bryan Armen Graham
There's so little to separate these two aggressive baseliners: Li is 28, Clijsters 27; Li is 11-0 this year, Clijsters 10-1; Li dropped one set en route to the final, Clijsters none. Vitals? Nearly a push. Racket brand? Babolat for both. Each quit the tour for two years for personal growth and managed to come back stronger. But when you consider the record of Clijsters 2.0 at hardcourt majors -- 22-1 in four appearances -- it'd require an Uluru-sized hunch to pick against her. Clijsters in three.
No question the hottest woman in tennis is the girl with the rose tattoo. Li has owned the competition (she enters the final on an 11-0 streak), she’s won over the crowd with her wit and charm (her attempts to resolve a dispute over her wedding anniversary date on-court was plain adorable) and -- most importantly -- she’s beat Kim Clijsters less than a month ago. And after trailing the first five games. Clijsters has managed to survive the fortnight without playing her best tennis, and her experience as a past Slam winner is an advantage. Still, there’s just something about Li’s run that seems meant to be. She’s labored for more than a decade for this moment and showed a champion’s heart in her come-from-behind victory over No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semis. Unless her husband, Jiang Shan, keeps Li awake with another one of his snoring fits tonight, you have to like her chances of validating the Aussie Open once-dubious boast as the official "Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific." Oh, and becoming China’s first ever major champion too. Li in three.
Click here for SI.com's men's final picks. Share your prediction in the comments below.