Melbourne: China’s Li Na moved tantalisingly close to her first Australian Open title yesterday after halting future superstar Eugenie Bouchard to reach her third Melbourne final in four attempts, giving herself a magnificent chance of clinching a second Grand Slam title.
The World No 4 will start tomorrow’s final as favourite against pint-sized Dominika Cibulkova, despite a hot run of form by the Slovak, who added Agnieszka Radwanska to her list of conquests.
Victory for Li could have wide repercussions for tennis in Asia, which received a huge boost from her 2011 French Open win when she became the region’s first Grand Slam singles champion.
She was never seriously threatened by Canada’s Bouchard, 19, who was playing her first Grand Slam semi-final, and after dominating the first set she took it 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes.
Li, intelligently guided by coach Carlos Rodriguez, now has a great opportunity to make up for the 2011 and 2013 finals, which both ended in tears when she lost from winning positions.
Last year, she twice rolled her ankle in the final against Victoria Azarenka, and on the second occasion she banged her head so hard on the court that she briefly blacked out.
“It is the third time, so pretty close to the trophy,” she said. “At least I’ll try to not fall down this time, because last year in the final I think I played well but I only can say (I was) unlucky because I fell down twice.”