China’s Li Na upset world number one and top seed Caroline Wozniacki 3-6 7-5 6-3 to reach the final of the Australian Open on Thursday.
Ninth seed Li saved a match point in the second set before fighting back to beat the 20-year-old Dane and become the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam singles final.
“I'm so happy I can be the first Chinese player coming to the final, I always do the first one,” said a beaming Li, her country's first WTA title winner and first top 10 player, in a courtside interview.
“Of course I was nervous for the semifinal and I didn’t have a good evening last night, my husband sleep like (makes snoring noise). I was waking up every hour.”
Later, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters wasted little time in flattening second seed Vera Zvonareva 6-3 6-3 with an awesome display of power tennis to reach her second Australian Open final on Thursday.
Third seed Clijsters, the 2004 Melbourne runner-up, will face Chinese ninth seed Li Na in Saturday’s final after overpowering her Russian opponent in just 73 minutes.
“I lifted my level compared to my other matches,” Clijsters said in a courtside interview. “I’ve played in a lot of big matches and you learn from them.
“I just keep fighting and try to be the last one standing.”
Clijsters, lime green dress and visor shimmering in the sunshine, simply had too many weapons for Zvonareva’s comfort, the three-times Grand Slam champion taking the first set with a fierce drive volley.
Zvonareva’s big match temperament has been questioned in the past and her fragility showed on the key points, loose shots and fluffed volleys frequently letting her down.
The second set followed a similar pattern, Clijsters chasing Zvonareva all over Rod Laver Arena and the former world number one completed an easy victory with a delicate drop volley.
Clijsters, who also thrashed Zvonareva 6-2 6-1 in last year’s US Open final, will replace the Russian as the world number two with her seventh win in their 10 meetings.
Li was a picture of torment in the early part of the match, bleating at her coach and husband in the stands as her baseline rockets cannoned into the net or sailed over the lines.
But the Chinese saved her best tennis for when she really needed it, saving the match point and caressing a sharp volley to break back to 5-5.
With red-clad Chinese fans screaming “Jia you!” (come on), Li sealed the set when Wozniacki crumbled with a double-fault, sending her husband Jiang Shan scurrying for a convenience break.
Both players struggled to hold serve in a final set of unrelenting tension, but Li captured the decisive break at 4-3 when Wozniacki netted a shot after a ferocious baseline battle.
Li stood firm when serving for the match, sealing it when Wozniacki clubbed a shot wide to raise China’s hopes of a maiden singles Grand Slam champion.
Li will play Kim Clijsters or Vera Zvonareva in the final on Saturday.
Li Na (CHN x9) bt Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x1) 3-6 7-5 6-3
Bob Bryan (USA)/Mike Bryan (USA x1) bt Eric Butorac (USA)/Jean-Julien Rojer (AHO) 6-3 6-2; Mahesh Bhupathi (IND)/Leander Paes (IND x3) bt Max Mirnyi (BLR)/Daniel Nestor (CAN x2) 7-6 (7/5) 4-6 6-3
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