Thursday, January 27, 2011
Li Na makes history, will play Clijsters for Grand Slam glory.
Kim Clijsters is into her second final at the Australian Open and trying to win her fourth grand slam title – but her first outside New York.
She took care of world No.2 Vera Zvonareva on Rod Laver Arena today 6-3 6-3 after China’s Li Na came from a set down and a match point against her to beat world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in a thriller 3-6 7-5 6-3.
The pair will now meet in Saturday night’s women’s singles final.
It wasn’t all that long ago – in fact two weeks – that Li and Clijsters met in a WTA final. It was the Sydney International and Clijsters will remember all too well about having a 5-0 lead in the first set but eventually losing the match 7-6 6-3.
“I was able to rise to the occasion today,” Clijsters said of her triumph over Zvonareva, whom she beat in September last year too win her third US Open.
“I’ve played some big matches and haven’t won them all, but it definitely teaches you something, the losses.”
Li will be playing in her maiden grand slam final – the first Chinese player to do so. Clijsters has actually been in seven grand slam finals, having lost the first four before her triumph in the 2005 US Open.
But it’s been a while between drinks in Melbourne. Clijsters lost the 2004 final to Belgian compatriot Justine Henin, who coincidently announced her second retirement from the game overnight due to her elbow tendon injury.
More recently Clijsters lost the 2007 semi-final to Maria Sharapova in Melbourne before retiring herself to get married and start a family. She returned to Melbourne last year and was humiliated in the third round 6-0 6-1 by Nadia Petrova.
But she said her philosophy has always been to keep fighting.
“I tried really hard on every point as I had tough matches against Vera last year and lost to her a couple of times,” Clijsters said on-court today.
“I try to make my opponents go for that one extra shot every time. You have to try to be the last one standing.”
The victory didn't come as easy, but little has in the life of Na Li, who became the first player from China to reach the final of a Grand Slam when she knocked No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki out of the Australian Open with a spectacular victory.
Li, who had reached the semifinal last year, saved a match point down 4-5 in the second set with a screaming forehand winner and then never looked back, putting on a ferocious display from inside the baseline and never backing off the ball. She sealed the contest when a shaken Wozniacki erred on a forehand.
"This is good experience for my whole life, because many player, they play long time, but they never come to the final for a Grand Slam," said the Li, who lost to Serena Williams in last year's semifinal. "Today I get it."
The 20-year-old Dane was rock solid for the first set and half, serving brilliantly, pushing herself to make her forehand a weapon and relentlessly retrieving Li's blasts.
She broke Li to open the match and while Li broke back to 2-2 behind heavy groundstrokes, the quick Wozniacki sprinted to and fro and put up a wall behind the baseline, forcing Li into one error after another. She broke Li at 4-3 and eventually won the set, where she only committed two unforced errors.
A confident Wozniacki broke Li to 2-1 by ripping a return winner, but was unable to break Li again in a long and tough seventh game, and then began to lose control of the contest.
Li began to hit the corners, charge the net and yank Wozniacki from side to side. Li forced her into a forehand error to break back to 4-4, but then was inexplicably broken to 5-4 when she hit a forehand approach shot way wide. Wozniacki held her sole match point at 5-4, but played the point too passively and Li responded by ripping a forehand winner down the line, She won three straight games and took the set when the Dane double faulted.
Wozniacki kept running, but could never dictate in the third set and the match was on Li's racket. She did manage to break Li to 2-1, but then her wheels came off as she was broken back to 2-2, was broken again to 4-2 on a backhand error and while Li dropped her serve to 4-3, she out muscled Wozniacki in the next two games. The 28-year-old ripped a forehand cross court winner to gain a match point and then watched Wozniacki miss a forehand of her own to end the contest.