Slovakian underdog Dominika Cibulkova stunned fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska Thursday, losing just three games to storm into an Australian Open final against China's Li Na.
The 20th seed was in inspired form to rip the Pole to shreds 6-1, 6-2 and not only make her first Grand Slam final in 26 attempts but also become the first player from her country to get so far.
"Aga is an unbelievable player and I expected a tough match. I just knew I had to go for my shots," said the 24-year-old, who has won three career singles titles, including at Stanford last year where she beat Radwanska in the final.
"I had so many thoughts in my head (during the match) but just focused on my game. I can't believe I'm in a final."
On paper, Poland's Radwanska was the clear favourite after beating the Slovak, an old foe she has been playing since they were nine years old, in five of their six WTA meetings.
But she was a shadow of the player that beat two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals, unable to get in her groove on Rod Laver Arena with Cibulkova hardly putting a foot wrong.
It was another wasted opportunity for Radwanska, who has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of the last four years at Melbourne Park but has failed to push on to the final.
Before her win on Thursday, Cibulkova had been to the semis of a Grand Slam once before, five years ago as a 19-year-old at the French Open.
The short but punchy 20th seed, who ended Maria's Sharapova's tournament in the fourth round, said before the match that she was now more mature and ready to take the next step.
She showed her intent from the word go, caressing the ball to all corners of the court as she got off to the best possible start by breaking the Pole's first service game.
Cibulkova held serve when Radwanska smashed a backhand wide before the fifth seed got into the game by winning her own serve.
The Slovak needed to dig deep to keep her advantage by saving five break points on her next serve, as Radwanska pressed hard.
But the inspired Cibulkova raced to a 4-1 lead when Radwanska hit a feeble backhand into the net.
The Pole was making a flurry of unforced errors and was unable to make the most of any opportunities, with Cibulkova breaking again and wrapping up the set in 37 minutes.
It didn't get any better in the second set for Radwanska. She was broken immediately to go 2-0 down on a forehand crosscourt return, and then blew three break point chances in the fourth game.
The misery got worse as she dropped 3-0 behind and with the reward of a Grand Slam final now in her sights, Cibulkova held steady to take the match, falling to the court in celebration as Radwanska rushed back to the locker room in shock.
China's Li Na advanced to her second successive Australian Open final with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday.
Li has now reached three finals at Melbourne Park in the last four years, having lost to Victoria Azarenka last year and Kim Clijsters in 2011.
She also lost to Clijsters in the fourth round in 2012.
"Last time was a little bit tough so I will try this time to make one more step," Li said in a courtside interview.
"I think after working with the coach, it's not only about my technique, I'm playing much stronger on court... and more stable from the first point to the second point," she added of her success at the season-opening Grand Slam.
Bouchard was just the second Canadian player of either gender to make it to a Grand Slam semi-final in the Open Era, after Carling Bassett, who was a semifinalist at the 1984 US Open.
The 19-year-old, however, had trouble from the onset, letting the ball bounce in front of her on the opening serve due to the sun, before her first actual serve was into the wrong service box.
Li wasted little time in bashing three backhand winners in the first game to break the young Canadian to love, held serve, then broke again to love to give her a handy 3-0 lead.
Such was the world number four's dominance, Li did not commit an unforced error until the fourth game and restricted Bouchard to three points in total in the first five.
She continued to force Bouchard back behind the baseline, when rallies extended beyond three shots, but then temporarily lost concentration to allow the Canadian to win two games, before she sealed the first set in 28 minutes with a forehand volley.
Bouchard began the second set with an ace - her first of the match - and while Li held two break points the Canadian appeared to be getting into a rhythm and she battled to hold serve in a game that lasted 11 minutes.
Li's first service game of the second set lasted a further 10 minutes as Bouchard attacked Li's first serve, which had deserted her, with five deuce points before the Chinese belted a forehand out to give the 30th seed a 2-0 lead.
The momentum swung again with Li rattling off three successive games, and six of the final eight, as she continued to be aggressive to set up a final against either Dominika Cibulkova or fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
"Tough match of course in the final," Li added of her potential final opponent.
"I think both will fight because it's one more step to take the trophy so we will see."
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