Third Time Lucky For Li Na?

Image courtesy of adelaidenow.com.au, Picture: Colleen Petch
Li Na lines up in her third decider at Melbourne Park. Image courtesy of adelaidenow.com.au/Colleen Petch

While it’s a minor surprise to see Li Na back in the Australia Open final for the third time – only because there are such expectations on the likes of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova – it is a major shock for the last match in the women’s draw to feature Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova . The pocket rocket has been dynamic throughout the tournament, though, and she has beaten some quality players along the way, including third seed Sharapova.

These players have met four times previous, and Cibulkova has managed to grab just one set in that time. Two of those matches were on clay, with the others on hardcourt, but they’ve never met in a Slam. They last clashed in Toronto last year when the Chinese superstar scored a relatively easy 7-6 6-2 win at the quarter-final stage.

Li has powered through the past three rounds dropping just 12 games in disposing of Ekaterina Makarova, Flavia Pannetta and Eugenie Bouchard, in what was a fairly light run in to the decider. She had a major scare in the third round when Lucie Safarova held a match point against, before the world number 4 recovered to triumph 1-6 7-6 6-3 . She was in ominous form in the semi-final victory over Bouchard, storming to a 5-0 lead in the first set before half the crowd had managed to take its seats at Rod Laver Arena before cruising to a 6-2 6-4 win.

While Li has benefited some upsets on her side of the draw, Cibulkova has crashed through three higher-ranked opponents in the last few rounds. She dumped Sharapova from the tournament in three sets in the round of 16, then lost just three games in each match after going in as underdog against Simona Halep and Agnieska Radwanska. She would have expended very little energy in those last two wins.

Li has just a French Open victory in 2011 to show for three final appearances in Slams. The two losses came at the Australian Open; in 2011 she went down in three sets to crowd-favourite Kim Clijsters, while she almost overcame an ankle injury and head knock before falling to Azarenka 12 months ago. She often performs below her best in big matches and this will be the first time she goes in to a decider at Melbourne Park as favourite.

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