China’s Na Li became the first Asian player, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam final on Thursday when she defeated Slam-less world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
The No. 9-seeded Li had beaten the Woz in their last two meetings, but that streak looked like it would come to an end when the Dane served for the match at 6-3, 5-4. Li saved a match point with a stunning forehand down the line, broke back twice to take the second set 7-5, and won the third set by brute force.
In the third Li battered 15 winners to none for the steady put power-challenged Dane, whose strategy of consistency and chasing down balls was no match for the double-handed power of Li.
“I made a lot of mistakes in the first set and in the beginning of the second set, but after I saved match point I thought, ‘Okay, now’s your chance,’” Li said. “It’s tough playing against her. She’s running — I felt some of my shots were winners but every time she got the ball back. It’s tough for everyone to play against.”
Wozniacki was left to rue a match point on her racquet, at a point in the match where her strategy was working, and Li was doing little more than producing errors.
“Sometimes in tennis it’s one ball that can change everything,” Wozniacki said. “I didn’t get my match point. From then on, she was just better. She won the most important point — the last one…It’s quite difficult to get through this one. I just need to get back on the practice court and keep working hard. Hopefully I’ll get many more chances.”
In the final Li will face former No. 1 Kim Clijsters, who ousted world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3.
The No. 3-seeded Clijsters had lost three of her last four meetings against Zvonareva, but simply overpowered the Russian in an hour and 13 minutes. The aggressive Belgian won 12 of 15 points at the net, ending the match with flair as a drop volley dribbled beyond Zvonareva’s reach.
“I was happy with the way I played,” Clijsters said. “Happy that I was able to raise my level against an opponent where I have to play well and where I have to be very consistent throughout it all…I was able to just stay very aggressive throughout it all and keep my unforced errors down and put a lot of pressure on her.”
Still climbing the ranks since her return from retirement to start a family, Clijsters has now won 14 of her last 15 matches against Top 10 players. Since her comeback she has won the 2009-10 US Open titles, and finds herself in another Slam final in Melbourne after finishing runner-up to fellow Belgian Justine Henin in 2004.
The 2011 Australian Open women’s final will be a rematch of the Sydney final a few weeks ago, when Clijsters jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but then took her foot off the gas and ended up losing the match in straight sets.
“It’ll be an interesting one,” Clijsters said. “But I have to say I didn’t feel my best out there during that [Sydney] final. I think at some point I was already worried about playing [Dinara] Safina in the first round here and everything. But she played extremely well to get back, and was very focused and determined and just hit some incredible shots out there. She’s playing with obviously a lot of confidence — so am I. Should be a good one.”
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