Li became the first Chinese woman to reach a grand slam singles final in which she fought hard before going down 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 as Clijsters notched up her fourth major title and first outside New York.
But the 28-year-old from Wuhan achieved far more than simply winning six matches at Melbourne Park – she brought tennis into millions of homes in China, potentially paving the way for a new generation of players from a country yet to really make its mark on the sport.
Li was quick to play down the magnitude of her achievement and looked uneasy when she was asked if she thought she was a national heroine.
“I guess...maybe,” she said. “But I haven’t seen the news. I haven’t looked at the internet because if someone says something bad about you, you get sad or angry, so I didn’t look.
“I am not sure how big this news is in China right now,” she added, before indicating with her fingers she felt it would barely register.
Li is intending to return to her homeland to spend some time with her family over Chinese New Year but is not expecting a welcome party at the airport.
With four now in the bag, Clijsters can look forward to the rest of the year with optimism. However, she was reluctant to talk targets, although having won the Australian and US Opens, it is obvious Wimbledon and the French Open are on the agenda as she tries to complete the career slam.
“I am not going to sit here and say that wouldn’t be nice but to be honest I haven’t really thought about it,” she said.
“It’s a little early to already think ahead and focus on those kind of things. I have been really focused on this last month so I was ready for the Australian summer and now I need a break from setting goals.
“But obviously the French is a grand slam where I would like to do well, as I would at all of them. But I am just excited I won this one. I am not really thinking in that way yet.
“That will probably happen after Fed Cup when I am home for a few weeks.
“After that I will probably have time to sit together with the team and look at the schedule for this year.”