(January 23, 2014) Li Na earned a spot in the Australian Open Women’s final for the third time in four years sending home 19-year-old Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 in 86 minutes on Thursday.
Li, No. 4 in the world is the highest seed remaining in the women’s draw, with top three seeds Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all eliminated earlier than expected.
Li lost in the finals of the Australian Open in 2011 to Kim Clijsters and last year to Victoria Azarenka.
Li survived a match point to win against Lucie Safarova in the third round.
The 2011 French Open champion jumped out to a 5-0 lead in 14 minutes with her backhand dictating play. The Canadian teen made her way back into the set winning two straight games when her opponent’s level dropped. Li held on to win the set 6-2 in 28 minutes. Her backhand dictated play throughout the match nailing 16 winners from that side.
“I think she played really well,” Bouchard said. “You have to give her credit. All of her groundstrokes were like a foot from the baseline and she was very consistent. Even her serves were really solid.
“I felt like she didn’t give me much breathing space, much room to do what I want to do on the court. I tried to put pressure, but she just played too good at moments.”
Bouchard opened the second set grabbing the first two games. Li followed by claiming three games to go up a break.
“I just wanted to get into the match a little bit more,” said the Canadian teen. “I felt like she was really hitting her shots. I was kind of just letting her do all these winners side to side. It wasn’t really my game.
“I just tried to get into the rallies more, try to step in a little bit more, and try to put more pressure on her because she was just putting a lot of pressure on me.”
It’s difficult to believe that Li though about leaving the WTA Tour after the 2013 French Open after falling in the second round. The soon-to-be 32-year-old decided against quitting the tour and made the semifinals of the US Open.
Bouchard whose ranking will rise to about 20 in the world was the first Canadian to reach the semifinals of a major 1984 when Carling Bassett did it at the US Open.
“I wouldn’t say I exceeded my expectations, but I’m happy with how I did,” Bouchard said of her career week which marked the first time she made it past the third round of a major.
“But like I said, I always want to do better. To me it’s not a surprise. I’ve been working hard my whole life to do this, play at Grand Slams and do well. It’s not an overnight thing and it’s not a surprise to me.”
“My ranking will improve and stuff, so that’s good,” she said. “But can’t stop, can’t rest on results. I mean, it’s really important to keep improving and looking forward to the next tournaments.
“She’s young,” Li said. “She hit ball well. I think for sure she can be very good player.”
During the post-match on-court interview, Li praised her opponent and apologized to a group of Bouchard fans who call themselves “the Genie Army” – “I think maybe she will be best player in the world. But today (I’m) so lucky.
” Sorry about that. If you guys be happy, I will go home.”
“I think is the third time, so pretty close to the trophy,” Li said. Yeah, at least I try to not falling down this time, because last year in the final I think I play well but I only can say unlucky because falling down twice.
“At least I try enjoy and staying healthy.”
What are Li Na’s thoughts coming into her fourth major final?
“Of course was first time come to the final, I didn’t have any experience. I just feel so exciting. So when the problem is come to me, how you say, I cannot face to because nobody can help me.
“But I was play more and more. I got more experience. So right now final is special, you know. Final is final, but still just one match.
“So I still have to hit the ball to try to do my best, yeah. I cannot waiting for opponent make mistake.”
Li will play the final against the 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.
“I think she was pretty fast legs on the court,” said the world No. 4. “Also she was hitter. Yeah, we play pretty like similar.
“So, yeah, tough match. Yeah, another challenge.”