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Li leaps into Australian Open final


 

Originally published on: 27/01/11 05:35

Li Na ended Caroline Wozniacki’s latest hopes of a Grand Slam title as she became the first Chinese woman ever to reach the final of a major at the Australian Open on Thursday.

Watched by her husband – who also happens to be her coach – the Wuhan-born 28-year-old saved a match point before battling back to beat the world No.1 3-6 7-5 6-3 in two hours and 35 minutes.

“I’m so happy I can be the first [Chinese] player to reach the Grand Slam final,” said Li afterwards in her on-court interview with Sam Smith, adding: “I always do the first one,” to roars of laughter from the crowd.

Li’s triumph was all the more remarkable, given that she was under the cosh from the beginning in a captivating first semi-final on Rod Laver Arena.

Wozniacki, who had already surpassed her career-best fourth-round run in Melbourne with a spot in the semis, started the brighter, scoring an immediate break.

And while the ninth seed broke right back, Wozniacki pegged Li into a corner and broke again for a 4-2 lead. That break remained the difference in the first set as Wozniacki used her typically tireless retrieval work on the baseline to force the Chinese woman into a hit and miss strategy of shooting for the lines.

The 20-year-old Dane broke again early in the second set, ramping up the pressure on Li’s serve to take the third game, before grabbing a speedy hold in the fourth.

But just as Wozniacki looked to be cantering into the final, Li flipped the tie on its head. First, the world No.1 squandered a 40-0 lead in the eighth game of the second set as Li broke back when the Dane, looking as if she already had half a mind on the final, struggled to keep the ball between the tramlines.

And though Wozniacki managed to break right back when Li’s head dropped after a double fault, she failed to serve out the match, playing a tentative service game at 5-4, and an even more tentative match point at 40-30 as Li rallied her way back into contention. Cleary affected by her missed opportunity, Wozniacki then struck a double fault to hand over the second set in the 12th game.

With the match poised at one set apiece, the pair traded a succession of breaks in the decider until Li found herself serving for the match at 5-3. And succeeding where Wozniacki failed, Li eventually clinched a captivating win on her first and only match point.

Asked by Smith if her mother, who has never watched her play live, would come and watch her Grand Slam final debut, Li said that she would remain at home, before mimicking her mother’s reasoning for not being there:“No no, I have my life. I didn’t wanna come with you.”

Wozniacki’s supposed to be the fan favourite, but Li, who scored the result to back it up, is giving the entertaining gig a good go.

Li will face Kim Clijsters in the final on Saturday evening after the Belgian saw off Vera Zvonareva 6-3 6-3 in the later women’s semi-final. The reigning US Open champion will take on Li for the seventh time in her career – she currently holds a 4-2 advantage in their head to heads – aiming to extract revenge after Li defeated her in the Sydney final earlier this month. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday night, Clijsters will return to No.2 in the world, while Zvonareva drops back to No.3.

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