19 January - 1 February 2015
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Na Li

Same court. Same style of opponent. And same result.

In fact, it was a far more clinical display as world No.4 Li Na demolished Ekaterina Makarova 6-2 6-0 in just 59 minutes to advance to the quarterfinals at Australian Open 2014.

Li was lucky to even be in this fourth round clash.

In her previous match, also at Hisense Arena, the 31-year-old came within a point of defeat against Lucie Safarova before escaping to a 1-6 7-6(2) 6-3 victory.

With coach Carlos Rodriguez apparently “sad” after that performance, Li said she worked extremely hard in her subsequent practice session.

“Normally every match we will talk after the match, but you can look the face. (He was) really unhappy. Even yesterday I know if I didn't do something for sure he was so pissed,” she laughed.

“So, yeah, I try a lot yesterday and also today match. But at least today I think make him a little bit happier. Feel much better.”

Spurred by the memory of that near-defeat, the fourth seed came out very much dialed-in against the Russian.

And Li had plenty of reason to be wary of the 22nd seed.

Makarova, like Safarova, is a rangy, powerful left-hander, capable of beating anyone when she gets hot - yet she's inconsistent from tournament to tournament, week to week. While she can beat the best in the world – she ousted Serena Williams from this very tournament in 2012 and in 2013 alone scored four wins over top five opponents – she has never been ranked higher than No.19, and continues to hover in the twenties.

Still, Li was taking no chances against a player who had reached the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the past two years running.

Breaking early to lead 3-1, she was doing absolutely everything just a little bit better than Makarova – she hit with more power, moved about the court quicker, and served more surely.

She also made sure that Makarova was never given the time or positioning to play her sweetly-struck groundstrokes, the same ones that gave eighth-ranked and red-hot Jelena Jankovic fits in an opening round upset in Sydney.

For an offensive player such as Makarova, this was frustrating, and she spent much of the match defending, unable to hurt the fourth seed.

Perhaps most impressive was Li’s grit. Whenever she found herself down in games – which happened several times – she steadied, cutting down her errors, playing deep and safe, or finding a perfectly-placed winner to peg the Russian back.

The crowd didn’t seem to mind that they were watching a one-sided contest; with every Li winner – 18 in all to Makarova’s four – there was rapturous applause, and often gasps of approval as the Chinese talent cracked groundstroke after groundstroke to within inches of the lines.

Another of those came on set point, when Li danced up to a backhand and played a crisp winner to secure a one-set lead.

Broken in the opening game of the second set, Makarova threw her hands up in despair, looking in the direction of her entourage, exasperated and deflated.

She didn’t have to suffer long – Li peppered the Russian’s backhand to draw an error in holding for 4-0, and two games later, showed no sign of a let-up when serving for the match, bookending the game with backhand and volley winners.

Next up is fellow veteran Flavia Pennetta, who, notes Li with a grin, is one day older than her.

“Yes, I'm sure. Hundred percent,” she said, when queried about the age difference by a journalist.

“Of course we are talk a lot. Because it's very, how you say, it's very tough to stay in the tour like over ten years. Like if you see the same player you feel more friendly.”

No doubt any form of friendship will be put firmly aside when the pair clash for a semifinal berth at Australian Open 2014.

Hisense Arena - Women's Singles - Round 4
N.Li CHN (4)
E.Makarova RUS (22)

Saturday, 20 December 2014
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