Slow-burner Li hoping for quick start against Clijsters

Melbourne: Notorious slow starter Li Na seems to produce her best tennis teetering on the brink of defeat but the Chinese hopes to hit the ground running against Kim Clijsters in Saturday`s Australian Open final.

The 28-year-old became China`s first singles grand slam finalist after stunning top seed Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday, but had to do it the hard way, saving a match point after throwing away the first set with a slew of unforced errors.

In her last match against Clijsters, Li came back from 5-0 down in the first set to win 7-6, 6-3 in the final of the Sydney International earlier this month, prompting the Belgian to tip Li as a contender at Melbourne Park.

"I wish this time I will not start 50 down," ninth seed Li said on Friday. "I think it will be a matter of who starts the best, who can get into their game quicker."

"I beat her last time. Doesn`t mean anything here."

Li`s success at Melbourne Park has naturally created huge waves in China, with the head of the country`s tennis association Sun Jinfang among the dozens sending congratulatory messages.

"Yesterday I got a text message from the federation boss," said Li, who was allowed to manage her own career by the state-run tennis association in 2009 but still pays 10 percent of her earnings to them.

"She said, `Oh, well done. You come back, I pay the dinner`.

I said, `What, only the dinner?`"

Li has dashed stereotypes of the driven and serious Chinese athlete by joking about her snoring coach and husband among other things. But she said the wisecracks would stop if she mounted the podium to collect the Daphne Akhurst trophy.

A question about whether she had discussed her success with China`s NBA pioneer Yao Ming was too much to resist, however.

"I think he`s a little bit far away for me right now," she said of the Houston Rockets centre.

Bureau Report