27
Jan
11

Li Na said: ‘I am so happy to be the first Chinese player to be in a final – I didn’t sleep very well last night, my husband Shan Jiang was snoring and I was waking up every hour.’

Li Na beat world No 1 and top seed Caroline Wozniacki to become the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open. I’m in the final: China’s Li Na celebrates after beating world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Li rallied to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, saving match point when Wozniacki was serving at 5-4 in the second set. Wozniacki, playing at a major for the first time as world No 1, had match point at 5-4 and 40-30 in the second set before Li rallied. Another 66 minutes later, Li served and won on her first match point.

Li lost to Serena Williams in two tiebreak sets in the semifinals here last year in her previous best run at a major. Her trip to the final is just another first for Li, who was the first Chinese player to win a tour-level title and the first to enter the top 10. She is also the first player from Asia to reach a Grand Slam singles final. Asked what motivated her comeback, she deadpanned: ‘Prize money.’

Li looked down and out after the first set, when she made 17 unforced errors and struggled for consistency. She finished with 51 unforced errors, but that was a reflection of her pushing Wozniacki to the extremes. She said it was important for the development of tennis in China, and joked that it could give the sport some profile for more than a month. ‘Good for my tennis career. Good for me; good for my team. Maybe good for China tennis,’ she said. ‘Of course this is good experience for my whole life, because many player, they play long time, but they never come to the final for a Grand Slam. ‘Today I get it, so feeling I can do well in next two days.’ Wozniacki could have ended the match in 1 hour, 29 minutes but Li hit a forehand down the line, forcing an error and saving match point. It sparked a revival. She broke in that game to make it 5-5, held at love and then broke her Danish rival’s serve again – after Wozniacki three times had game points to force a tiebreaker – to make it even at one set apiece. They traded breaks twice in the third set before Li held her nerve to finish it off when Wozniacki miscued a forehand.

The 20-year-old Wozniacki was under pressure from her opening match in Australia, with critics questioning the legitimacy of the No 1 ranking she gained last October despite her never having won a major. Wozniacki ensured she’ll retain top spot ranking by reaching the semi-finals but lamented: ‘I had a match point and I didn’t take it. Sometimes in tennis it’s one ball that can change everything. ‘I didn’t get my match point. From then on, well, she was just better at the most important points – she won the most important one, which was the last one. ‘It’s quite difficult to get through this one … Hopefully I’ll get many more chances in the future.’

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