the battle of the husbands

By Benjamin Snyder of TenaciouslyTennis.com.

The final of this year’s Australian Open women’s event signifies more than a battle pitting Belgium’s three-time US Open champ Kim Clijsters against Chinese tennis’ greatest hope, Li Na. It’s also the story of two husbands: retired basketball player Brian Lynch and Jiang Shan, a former tennis player-turned-coach.

For Kim, husband Brian left a lucrative basketball career on the European circuit to give his wife a second chance at tennis success. She’s done pretty well for herself, too. With two majors in 18 months – and the potential for a third – she’s the most successful mom in tennis history since Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s win at Wimbledon in the 1980s. | TSF Vault: Kim Clijsters

She’s even survived the limelight-shifting comeback of Belgian rival-turned-friend-turned-rival Justine Henin. Yeah, JuJu came back and then retired for the second time just as Kim claimed a spot in the Melbourne final. Oops.

Through it all, however, Brian’s been there to back her up. He goes to every match, bites his nails hoping for Kim’s success, and helps out with their daughter, Jada. And all so that his wife can do her thing: win.

As for Li, husband Jiang not only serves as her coach, but also is the guy who apparently deserves the credit for improving her mental game. He also inspired her to play again after she quit a few years ago. Even more importantly, he’s the brunt of some jokes she’s cracked on her way to the AO final.

Apparently, he snores pretty loud. After keeping her up the night before the semifinal match versus world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Li didn’t think twice about calling him out on it. No bed for Jiang, she told the world. Instead, he’d be sleeping in the bathroom, she said. We’ll have to keep an eye on him in the player box as Li takes to the court against Kim. Maybe Mirka could lend him some sunglasses?

To make matters worse, Li had trouble remembering the date of their anniversary. In the same interview, the Chinese no. 1 got flustered when told her win came on their fifth anniversary. Is it the 27th or the 29th? In the moment, such a fact escaped the tennis-hot Li.

So, sorry, Jarmila Groth, these husbands simply ooze positive support, unlike Sam. They also seem keen on keeping the controversy and yelling to a minimum. Well, at least publicly and during match play.

In the end, the question isn’t just: Who will win? Which husband’s support reigns supreme also stands to be determined in this historic match between mother Kim Clijsters and Chinese trendsetter Li Na.

(photos via getty)