Li to face Clijsters in Australia

Li becomes first Chinese player to reach Grand Slam championship final, where she is to meet US Open winner Clijsters.

    Li fought back to topple world number one Caroline Wozniacki and now faces Kim Clijsters in the final. [EPA]

    China's Li Na has entered the Australian Open final after beating top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark to become her country's first singles grand slam finalist.

    Li rallied to win the first of the women's semifinals 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 on Thursday after Wozniacki served for the match with a 5-4 lead in the second set.

    "Of course, this is a good experience for my whole life, because many players, they play a long time, but they never come to the final for a grand slam," said Li, who will play her best tennis at the age of 28 after spending years battling injuries.

    "Today I get it, so (I'm) feeling I can do well in next two days. Maybe many young players or children (in China) will see and think, 'maybe one day we can do the same or even better than her'."

    Ninth seed Li, who lost in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last year to eventual champion Serena Williams, will play US Open winner Kim Clijsters for the title on Saturday after the Belgian beat Russia's Vera Zvonareva 6-3 6-3.

    Li will hope to get a better night's sleep on Friday after complaining that her husband and coach Jiang Shan had woken her up with his snoring the night before her match against Dane Wozniacki.

    "My husband just says, 'relax'. I say, 'How? Tell me how can I relax because I couldn't sleep,'" said Li.

    The lack of sleep appeared to tell in the first set as Li grumpily bleated at Jiang in the stands when her baseline rockets cannoned into the net or sailed over the lines under a hot sun at Rod Laver Arena.

    Wozniacki's defence was fortress-like and her canny anticipation of Li's shot-making repeatedly frustrated the Chinese, who struggled to put away the Dane's lobbed saves.

    Wozniacki ratcheted up the pressure to win a break at 3-2 and Li clubbed a forehand return long to throw away the first set and slump in her chair furrow-browed.

    However, the slow-starting Li has made a career of battling her way back into matches and saved her best tennis when standing on the precipice of defeat.

    Li saw off match point by forcing an error from Wozniacki, then nervelessly rushed to the net to poke a sharp volley to break back to 5-5.

    The 20-year-old Wozniacki was under pressure from her opening match in Australia, with critics questioning the legitimacy of the Number 1 ranking she gained last October despite her never having won a major. She lost the 2009 US Open final to Clijsters, but has never returned to a final.

    'Prize money'

    With Chinese fans screaming "Jia you!" (come on), Li held serve to love and Wozniacki wavered, sending a shot long to concede a set point and then double-faulted to take the match into a decider.

    "I had a match point and I didn't take it ... Sometimes in matches or in tennis it's one ball that can change everything," said a downcast Wozniacki.

    From then on, she was just better at the most important points.

    Both players struggled to hold serve in the final set as tension reached boiling point, but Li captured the decisive break at 4-3 when the Dane netted a backhand to cap a ferocious baseline battle.

    Li stood firm to serve out the match, coming back from 0-30 down to seal it when a tiring Wozniacki clubbed a forehand wide to raise China's hopes of a maiden singles grand slam champion.

    When asked what had got her through the suspense of the third set, Li grinned and answered: "Prize money."

    Riding an 11-match winning streak, Li will fancy her chances of another stunning upset after upending Belgian Clijsters to win the Sydney International earlier this month.

    "Yeah, another challenge. Of course it's a tough match. Tennis is never easy," said Li.

    "I don't need to think about it too much ... It's Saturday night so I still have two days. I can totally rest right now."

    Clijsters also in final

    In other semi final, Kim Clijsters, the US Open champion, beat Number 2-ranked Vera Zvonareva and won it 6-3, 6-3 - repeating the result of their US Open final.

    Clijsters was the only Grand Slam winner to qualify for the semifinals.

    The 27-year-old Belgian is back into the Australian Open final for the first time since her loss to Justine Henin in 2004. She has won the US Open three times - including both since she returned from retirement in 2009 - but is yet to win a major outside American soil.

    She attributed her recent success to her ability to "rise on the occasion", she said.

    "I've been on tour a while and played big matches. I think that definitely helps me now that I'm a little older."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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