MELBOURNE, Australia — When Li Na saw all the Chinese flags and heard the cheers of “Jia You,” or “Let’s Go” in Mandarin, during her Australian Open final against Victoria Azarenka, she thought she might have been in Beijing.
“I can hear a lot of Chinese fans, yeah,” she said after losing to Azarenka in three sets Saturday night. “I was, oh, looks like China Open.”
Li was joking, but Australian Open organizers would be pleased to hear the comparison. The tournament has long billed itself as the “Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific,” and in recent years, it has stepped up its efforts to court increasingly affluent and tennis-mad fans in China.
With Li making the women’s final for the second time in three years, this has been easy to do.
Attracting TV viewers was the first priority. When Li, China’s top player, reached her first Grand Slam final at Melbourne Park in 2011, losing to Kim Clijsters, the tournament drew 120 million viewers in China.
Seeing numbers like these, Tennis Australia signed a three-year deal with China Central Television and the Shanghai Media Group to broadcast the tournament throughout China, with a guaranteed minimum number of hours of coverage.
MIXED DOUBLES: Wild card entrants Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden combined to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak on Sunday.
The Australian pair ousted second-seeded Elena Vesnina and Leander Paes in the second round and fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova and Mahesh Bhupathi in the quarterfinals.
“As Australians it’s incredible to play here,” Ebden said. “We’ve had an incredible time the last couple of weeks and we’ll see you next year.”
A SWEET GIFT: Novak Djokovic wrapped up his victory at the Australian Open on a sweet note.
A master at playing to his audience, Djokovic came with several boxes of chocolates to his post-match news conference and then played host as he distributed them to a room packed with journalists.
“Please, take two,” Djokovic said, offering his box of treats to one reporter at a time.
“I see nobody’s on a sugar-free diet,” he joked as the chocolates began to disappear.
The No. 1-ranked player became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles when he beat Andy Murray 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday’s final.
Djokovic has won four of his six major titles at Melbourne Park, and likes to give a little something back to the crowds who cheer him.
An entertainer on court and off, Djokovic is known for celebrating hard-fought victories at Rod Laver Arena by ripping off his shirt. He kept his clothes on for this final, but did bare his chest after winning a five-hour thriller over Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round.
“It’s definitely my favorite Grand Slam,” Djokovic said during his victory speech on center court. “It’s an incredible feeling winning this trophy once more. I love this court.”
To mark the national holiday on Saturday, Djokovic pinned a fuzzy koala to his sweat shirt and walked into his pre-final news conference saying, “Happy Australia Day!”
He was asked on Sunday if his good humor was a conscious effort, which made Djokovic turn philosophical.
“I try to enjoy what I do, and every moment of the life that I have is a blessing,” he said. “What else can you do but to be happy and try to bring that joy to the other people around - especially in the tournaments.”
“Everybody has bad days,” he added. “I’m not always funny or laughing.”
He then apologized to reporters for canceling the winner’s traditional day-after news conference scheduled for Monday. He said he wanted to get back to Europe to begin practicing for the Davis Cup, which starts next weekend.
That’s when he brought out the chocolates, as a consolation prize.
“Let’s keep it sweet,” he said.
TRIBUTE TO ANDRE: Andre Agassi made his return to Rod Laver Arena in a suit and tie.
Now 42, Agassi was invited back to the site of some of his greatest tennis triumphs to present this year’s trophies.
“It was obviously a big pleasure and honor for me to receive the trophy from him,” Djokovic said.
By winning his fourth Australian Open, Djokovic matched a record set by Agassi who won the tournament in 1995, 2000, ‘01 and ‘03.
“He’s a legend of the sport,” Djokovic said. “He won everything.”
An eight-time Grand Slam winner, Agassi won at each of the four Grand Slams and owns an Olympic gold medal from the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Agassi watched the final from the stands and then presided over the trophy ceremony. It was his first trip Down Under in nearly 10 years.