- Federer & Wawrinka to join forces in Swiss Christmas fundraiser
- Photo: Rafael Nadal congratulates Li Na on her special career
- Photos: Eugenie Bouchard all smiles for beach photoshoot
- Nick Kyrgios & Dustin Brown discuss the long and the short of it (hair and careers)
- ATP World Tour Finals 2014: Samuel L Jackson and Roger Federer back charity launch event
- Li Na announces her retirement from tennis after ‘agonising’ decision
Australian Open 2013: Surging Li Na halts Maria Sharapova’s race to No1
Australian Open 2013: Maria Sharapova is beaten by China's Li Na in straight sets in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park
With the shock exit of Serena Williams from the top half of the draw in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, the door seemed to swing wide open for the No2 seed, Maria Sharapova.
Instead of facing a woman who had beaten her in every match since 2004—10 straight times—Sharapova was likely to face the defending champion, Victoria Azarenka. True, Azarenka had a marginal lead in their head-to-head, but Sharapova had beaten her in their last match, at the WTA Championships.
But that scenario did not take account of the No6 seed and former Australian Open finalist, La Na.
For the Chinese woman, it seems, timing has been everything, and her steadily improving form through the tournament had taken out an increasingly impressive run of seeds: No27 Sorana Cirstea, No18 Julia Goerges and the form player of 2013 thus far, No4 Agnieszka Radwanska.
Li did not drop a set, and the impact of her new coach, Carlos Rodriguez, was beginning to show. She came to Melbourne with the title in Shenzhen and a semi finish in Sydney, and looked fit, strong and confident.
Even so, her task looked near-impossible. Not only did Sharapova have the upper hand in the relationship— Sharapova led their rivalry 8-4, and all four of those losses came while she was still dealing with her shoulder problems—but her form and her progress had been the talk of the tournament: Five matches played, nine games dropped, a scant five and a quarter hours on court, records falling all around her.
What’s more, victory over Li would be Sharapova’s 40th in Melbourne, where she had reached the semi-finals five times, winning in 2008, and would keep alive her prospects of reaching No1 in the rankings.
But after 93 minutes of play, Sharapova had conceded more games in this one match than in her previous five combined, had made 32 unforced errors, six double faults and converted just one of seven break points.
In contrast, Li’s naturally aggressive game was working to perfection—honed, perhaps, by sterner competition in the earlier rounds. Her crisp ground strokes, accurately placed and with real zip, moved her opponent mercilessly across the baseline, depriving Sharapova of time and rhythm, and she broke in the opening game of the first set.
It took Li a little longer in the second set—she broke in the fifth game—and Sharapova could not convert a break chance in the next. Li broke again, courtesy of three straight errors from the Russian, and served herself into her third Grand Slam final with a resounding, 6-2, 6-2 scoreline.
Sharapova afterwards summed it up succinctly:
“I think she played a really great match. She was certainly much more aggressive than I was, dictating the play. I was always on the defence.”
The late-blooming Li, who will turn 31 next month, has lost none of the youthful looks and personality that charmed the world when she reached her first final here two years ago.
“I don’t know what happened today. I just came to the court feeling like, ‘Okay, just do it.’ Yeah. We had a lot of close games. Before I would get angry or something in those moments, but this year I’ve tried to cool down on the court. Like Hollywood—you don’t have to show your opponent what you’re thinking. It’s a little bit like Hollywood, but not real.
“My first time in a Grand Slam final in 2011, I was a little bit shocked. I didn’t know what to do. No one told me what to do on the court. And two years ago I was the first player from China to do these things, so everyone was so excited—maybe now it’s not so interesting anymore.
“But this time should be better. What should I worry about? I worked so hard in winter training, and now everything is coming back to me. I’ll come to the court, take the racket and enjoy the tennis.”
She was wrong about one thing. Li is one of the most watched tennis players in the world, and this is, after all, the Grand Slam of Asia Pacific—as close as China has to its own Major.
But she was right about another: She has worked hard and, with perfect timing, everything is coming back. She will pose a considerable challenge to Azarenka, who beat Sloane Stephens in the other semi, 6-1, 6-4.
The top seed sailed through the opening set in just 33 minutes and led 2-0 in the second, only to see Stephens stage a fight back with the same great ground-strokes and net skills that upset Williams in the quarters. But Azarenka contained the surge, and having missed five match points, took the 68-minute second set to seal her place in her second straight Australian final.
The women’s final will be played on Saturday evening—the equivalent of 8.30am on Sunday in the UK.◀ The Sport Review homepageNext story ►
Read more on...
Photo: Rafael Nadal congratulates Li Na on her special career19 hours ago Tennis
Federer & Wawrinka to join forces in Swiss Christmas fundraiser1 day ago Tennis
Nick Kyrgios & Dustin Brown discuss the long and the short of it (hair and careers)2 days ago Tennis
Li Na announces her retirement from tennis after ‘agonising’ decision2 days ago Tennis
Heather Watson aims to get her 2014 season back on track in China3 days ago Tennis
Nadal v Ronaldo! Tennis star accepts football legend’s poker challenge3 days ago Tennis
Andy Murray says ‘Yes’ to Scottish independence3 days ago Tennis
ATP World Tour Finals 2014: Samuel L Jackson and Roger Federer back charity launch event4 days ago Tennis
Photos: Eugenie Bouchard all smiles for beach photoshoot4 days ago Tennis
Davis Cup 2014: Can Federer and Wawrinka finally win the elusive title?6 days ago Tennis
Andy Murray receives Shenzhen Open and China Open wildcards1 week ago Tennis
WTA Finals 2014: Maria Sharapova qualifies for Singapore2 weeks ago Tennis
ATP World Tour Finals 2014: Marin Cilic win fuels ticket demand2 weeks ago Tennis
Photos: Rafael Nadal trains until dusk on road to recovery from wrist injury2 weeks ago Tennis
US Open 2014: Marin Cilic rides new-found joy in tennis to first Major2 weeks ago Tennis
Photos: Serena Williams parties with Caroline Wozniacki after US Open win2 weeks ago Tennis
Photo: Novak Djokovic vows to come back stronger after US Open loss2 weeks ago Tennis
US Open 2014: Serena Williams roars past Caroline Wozniacki to ‘No18 Club’2 weeks ago Tennis
Photo: Czech Republic ace Tomas Berdych relishing Davis Cup semi-final2 weeks ago Tennis
Liverpool star leads Twitter tributes as Nishikori & Cilic reach US Open final2 weeks ago Tennis