With tournament favorites Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka out of the way, we are left with a very surprising final between fourth-seeded and two-time finalist Li Na and No. 20 seed Dominika Cilbukova for the 2014 Australian Open women’s title.
No.4 seed Li Na has been the highest seed remaining since the semifinals. The last time an Australian Open final did not feature a Top 3 seed was 2008 – No.5 seed Maria Sharapova d. No.4 seed Ana Ivanovic. The 2014 Australian Open marks the first time since 1997 that none of the Top 3 seeds have advanced to the SF here.
En route to the final, Li has not faced a Top 16 seed at the 2014 Australian Open; Marion Bartoli won 2013
Wimbledon without facing a Top 16 seed.
Li saved a match point in her 3r tussle with Lucie Safarova. In the Open Era, three women (on four occasions) have won the Australian Open after saving match point: Monica Seles (1991), Jennifer Capriati (2002) and Serena Williams (2003 and 2005).
Of the 11 finals Li has lost during her career, just two have been at the hands of lower-ranked players: 2005 Estoril (as No.4 seed, ranked No.40, l. [Q] Safarova, ranked No.155) and 2009 Birmingham (as No.4 seed, ranked No. 20, l. No.13 seed Rybarikova, ranked No.58).
In the Open Era, a 30-year-old has won a Grand Slam title 15 times, a feat accomplished by seven different women: Serena Williams (4), Margaret Court (3), Martina Navratilova (3), Chris Evert (2), Billie Jean King (2), Ann Jones (1) and Virginia Wade (1). Based on the tournament end date, Li will be 31 years, 334 days.
Cibulkova is Slovakia’s first Grand Slam finalist, although Slovak-born Miloslav Mecir reached the final of the 1986 US Open and 1989 Australian Open, representing the then-Czechoslovakia. Martina Hingis was born in Košice, now Slovakia’s second biggest city but Czechoslovakia at the time.
Cibulkova is contesting a Grand Slam final for the first time in her career, almost five years after she reached her first Grand Slam SF at 2009 Roland Garros (l. Safina). This represents the longest gap between major SF appearances since Mary Pierce won 2000 Roland Garros and then reached the final in Paris in 2005.
Cibulkova advances to the final at the Australian Open after failing to reach the second week at the previous six Grand Slams. After reaching the QF at 2011 Wimbledon, she has only advanced to the second week on one occasion (2012 Roland Garros).
Cibulkova has defeated four of the Top 16 seeds en route to the final: No.16 Suárez Navarro (R32), No.3 Sharapova (R16), No.11 Halep (QF) and No.5 Radwanska (SF).
Including two wins here, Cibulkova is 12-27 lifetime vs. Top 5 opponents.
A player seeded No.10 or lower has won the Australian Open title three times: unseeded S.Williams (2007), No.12 seed Capriati (2001) and unseeded Chris O’Neil (1978).
At 5’3”, Cibulkova would join Nancy Richey (1968 Roland Garros) and Mima Jausovec (1977 Roland Garros) as the shortest women to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era. Rosie Casals (5’2”) was a two-time runner-up at the US Open (1970-71).
Cibulkova has caused an on-paper upset in two of the three WTA finals she has won to date: at 2012 Carlsbad (as No.2 seed, ranked No.14, d. top seed and No.10-ranked Bartoli) and 2013 Stanford (as No.3 seed, ranked No.25, d. top seed and No.4 ranked A.Radwanska). Her other title came at 2011 Moscow – as No.8 seed, ranked No.20, d. No.43 Kanepi.
Cibulkova could reach a new career-high ranking of No.11 by winning the Australian Open title.
 LI NA (CHN #4) vs.  DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA (SVK #24)
Li leads 4-0
This is Li’s second consecutive and third Australian Open final overall (R-Up in 2011, 2013); and her fourth Grand Slam final (also 2011 Roland Garros, which she won)… Began 2014 season by successfully defending her title at Shenzhen (d. Peng in what was second all-China final in WTA history)… Defeated youngest player in 2014 Australian Open draw in 1r (Konjuh), and second-youngest in 2r (Bencic)… Saved a match point against Safarova in 3r… Last time she lost to an opponent outside Top 20 was No.27 Cirstea at 2013 Toronto… In 2013, achieved best US Open result with SF appearance (l. S.Williams) – second time in her career she has reached SF or better at two Slams in the same calendar year – also 2011 Australian Open (R-Up) and 2011 Roland Garros (Champion)… Missed nearly a month of action after sustaining left ankle
injury during 2013 Australian Open final. Returned at Miami where she reached QF (l. S.Williams).
Bidding to become 43rd woman to win a Grand Slam title in Open Era… 4r win over No.3 Sharapova marked Cibulkova’s 11th career win over a Top 5 opponent, and SF win over No.5 Radwanska her 12th; now 12-27 lifetime vs. Top 5… Had five Top 10 wins in 2013 and including SF win over Radwanska here is 21-41 lifetime vs. Top 10 opponents… Has bettered Daniela Hantuchova’s previous Slovak-best effort here at Australian Open (SF in 2008)… 2013 was Cibulkova’s third Top 30 finish (at No.23), first time not ranked in year-end Top 20 since 2010 (No.31); also finished as Slovak No.1 for third straight year… Won 3rd WTA title at 2013 Stanford (as No.3 seed, d. top seed A.Radwanska in F); broke $4 million prize money mark following title win… Also advanced to final at 2013 Sydney; en route to final defeated three Top 10 opponents (No.8 Kvitova, No.7 Errani, No.5 Kerber; l. No.4 A.Radwanska 60 60 in F)… At 5’3” is the shortest player in the current Top 50.
SATURDAY AUSTRALIAN OPEN SCHEDULE
Rod Laver Arena 1:00 pm Start Time
1. Junior Boys’ Singles – Final
Alexander Zverev (GER) vs. Stefan Kozlov (USA)
2. Junior Girls’ Singles – Final
Jana Fett (CRO) vs. Elizaveta Kulichkova (RUS)
Not Before: 7.30pm
3. Women’s Singles – Final
Na Li (CHN) vs. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
4. Men’s Doubles – Final
Eric Butorac (USA) vs. Lukasz Kubot (POL)
Raven Klaasen (RSA) Robert Lindstedt (SWE)
Li Na 1.40 v Dominika Cibulkova 3.00
WEATHERUNDERGROUND MELBOURNE FORECAST
Partly cloudy and windy. High 18C. Winds S at 15 to 30 kmh.
Tonight: Clear skies. Low 12C. Winds SSE at 15 to 30 kmh.
U.S. TELEVISION SCHEDULE
ESPN has live coverage starting at 3:30am ET Saturday morning. ESPN3.com will offer live streaming of Li Na-Cibulkova.
You Might Like:
China’s Na Rolls Cibulkova for 1st Australian Open Title
Australian Open Women’s Preview: Serena, Sharapova, Yawn.
Aussie Open Women’s Preview: Serena, Maria Line Up Another Final?
Women’s Australian Open Semifinals an Odd Group
Olympic Tennis Women’s Draw Preview: Serena Tough Start