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Li Na

Li Na has managed to quell tennis's genie in a bottle Eugenie Bouchard in their women's semifinal match at Rod Laver Arena.

In a match of two distinct halves, Li prevailed 6-2 6-4 to advance to her third Australian Open final.

“I think beginning of the match I play very well,” explained Li. “Second set was a little bit tight because I was feeling, yeah, one set in target.  Is more like pretty feeling one feet already in the final.

“She's young.  She hit ball well.  I think for sure she can be very good player.”

Heading into Thursday’s match, Li, at No.4, was the highest remaining seed in the women's draw, while 30th-seeded Bouchard the lowest. And with the number of upsets we've seen in the past few days, there was a sense of anything could happen today.

There also happens to be 12 years and a wealth of experience separating these two players. But Bouchard had shown such composure beyond her 19 years in her quarterfinal victory over 14th seed Ana Ivanovic that nobody was prepared to count her out.

However early on it looked like the occasion may just overwhelm Bouchard.

In the blink of an eye – 14 minutes to be precise – the Canadian found herself trailing 5-0 to a rampant Li.

Li was magnificent. The world No.4 dictated play, striking hard and early to wrest control of the point from her younger opponent. Her backhand was working overtime as she crunched it deep down the line and crosscourt, racking up winners and threatening to break match record times.

In all, Li struck 35 winners to Bouchard’s 10 but she did throw up a few more unforced errors in the process, 23 to 14.

Bouchard may have felt that the match was slipping through her fingers but outwardly she didn't appear to panic. The Canadian registered her first game, surprisingly, with a break of the Li serve in the sixth game of the match, which was very much against the flow of the match to that point.

She followed up with a hold and while she lost the set 6-2, the act of winning those games seemed to settle her nerves and prepare her for a fight in the second set.

After blitzing through most of the opening set, Li looked intent on continuing in the same fashion in the second. Multiple break points in the first game of the second set had Bouchard scrambling to stay in the match.

The Canadian held serve then surprised Li by breaking her in the following game off the back of some sloppy forehands from Li.

Wary of her opponent's growing confidence, Li promptly broke back the next game and then leveled the second set.

Bouchard directed a lot of shots to Li's backhand throughout the match, which would have suited the fourth seed who has a clear preference for her backhand.

When Li broke Bouchard again in the fifth game, the 19-year-old looked up at her box and shrugged her shoulders as if to say "I don't know what to do?"

She soon figured it out though, breaking Li the next game to again square up the set.

Li, however, was close to the end and she knew it. The fourth seed attacked Bouchard's second serve at every opportunity and it paid off when she snatched what would prove to be the decisive break in the seventh game.

Shortly after Li served out the match, fittingly claiming match point with yet another backhand crosscourt winner, her go-to shot today.

The win means Li will face Dominika Cibulkova in the final, a player who, like Li, plays an offensive game.

“I think she was pretty fast legs on the court.  Also she was hitter.  Yeah, we play pretty like similar.”

“So, yeah, tough match.  Yeah, another challenge.”

And while Li would love to win, she has one additional goal in mind.

“At least I try to not falling down this time, because last year in the final I think I play well but I only can say unlucky because falling down twice.”

 

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Post-Tournament
Sunday, 20 April 2014
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