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29 November 2023

Grand Slam door opens for China's Li Na

Na Li of China plays a backhand in her quarter-final match against Flavia Pennetta of Italy during day nine of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. (GETTY)


China's Li Na will hope to seize a golden opportunity at the Australian Open as the top seed left standing heads into a semifinal against teen sensation Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday.

Li is the highest ranked women's player left at the season-opening Grand Slam with world number one Serena Williams, defending champion Victoria Azarenka and third seed Maria Sharapova all shock early exits.

It opens the door for the fourth seed to end her jinx at Melbourne Park where she has lost twice in the final in the last three years, to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Azarenka last year.

If she comes through against 19-year-old Bouchard, 12 years her junior, either Polish fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska or Slovak 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova will be awaiting her in the Saturday decider.

Despite the draw being blown wide open, the popular and experienced Li, who has been improving as the tournament wears on, is taking nothing for granted with so many upsets already.

"For me, everyone can beat everyone in a big tournament," she said, as she searches for her second Grand Slam title to go with her breakthrough 2011 French Open crown.

"I think everyone can lose a match." And Li will be fully aware that Bouchard won't simply roll over. The teen, voted the WTA newcomer of the year in 2013, is supremely confident in her abilities, which she displayed when beating former world number one Ana Ivanovic in the quarter-finals.

"She's a great champion, she's won a Slam as well and it's going to be really tough," Bouchard said of Li, who beat her 6-4, 6-4 in their only meeting, in Montreal in 2012.

But while respecting her opponent, Bouchard, who made a WTA final at Osaka and two semi-finals at Strasbourg and Quebec in a breakthrough season last year, also believes she can win.

"We've seen in this tournament, there have been some upsets. I think some players can still lose on any given day and it makes it extremely interesting.

"I know she's very solid, very good from the back. It's going to be hard, but I'm looking forward to it."

In the other semi-final, Radwanska plays Cibulkova, an old friend, with both making the Australian Open last four for the first time.

The pair, from bordering countries, are both 24 and have known each other since they were children, when they played each other in under-nine and under-10 tournaments.

"I think it's always tricky to play someone that you know for so long, play so many times, as well," said Radwanska, who stunned Azarenka in the quarter-finals with her aggressive tennis.

"Like I'm saying, every match is a different story, especially when it's a semi-final of a Grand Slam, the first semis for me and for her as well. We'll see."

While Radwanska won their last meeting in Tokyo in 2013, Cibulkova beat the Pole in the final at Standford earlier that year - the only win against her in six attempts at WTA level.

"I just want to keep my focus, you know, to stay aggressive," said Cibulkova, who accounted for Sharapova in the fourth round, on how she will approach the semi-final.

"In the end of the second week of the Grand Slam, nothing is easy. There is pressure you can feel from everywhere.

"So I still want to do the same thing as when I came into the tournament. I want to really enjoy it. I want to play my tennis. That's when I play my best."