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Li Na to face Cibulkova in the Australian Open final

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

MELBOURNE - A Chinese player who defied the system will play a Slovakian who defied the rankings in the final of an Australian Open that has defied the world's best players.

In a championship decider that on paper looks lopsided, Li Na, the fourth seed, plays 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.

But it shapes as a match that could go either way without surprising.

For Li, victory would be deserved after twice reaching the final at Melbourne Park and twice being denied.

A year ago against Victoria Azarenka, she fell, twisting her ankle and hitting her head so hard on the court she suffered concussion.

In 2011, she led 1-0 against Kim Clijsters in her first grand slam final, only to crumble.

Li's 6-2 6-4 defeat on Thursday of Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard has made her favourite for Saturday's final, but the scoreline also disguised a nagging fragility in the 31-year-old's game.

Li raced to a 5-0, first-set lead in only 14 minutes, promising a win in record time.

She then lost momentum, taking the same amount of time to wrap up the set, and a further 58 minutes to complete the victory.

Li's presence in the final reflects the attitude that helped her break free from the regimented Chinese sporting system, setting her own schedule, keeping her own prizemoney and employing her own coaches.

She duly became the first Chinese player to win a WTA singles title, the first to reach a grand slam quarter-final, the first to make the world's top 20 and the first to win a grand slam.

"I didn't stay in the national team. I didn't have a chance to practice," Li said after her semi-final win.

"For your whole life, you face so many choices ... you choose the one that is best for you.

"This is what I did."

Li didn't have a choice of opponents in Saturday's final but, if she did, she would have chosen Cibulkova, who she has beaten in each of their four meetings.

Cibulkova belied the seedings in her 6-1 6-2 defeat of Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska to make her first grand slam final.

Australian men's Open finalist Stanislas Wawrinka says it's nothing new for his semi-final victim Tomas Berdych to choke at key moments.

The Swiss eighth seed booked his first appearance in a grand slam decider by downing the Czech seventh seed 6-3 6-7 (1-7) 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4) on Thursday night.

The match was dominated by serve, but Berdych did not help his own cause by throwing in two double-faults to give up the third-set tiebreak, then producing another in the fourth-set tiebreak.

Wawrinka said he took confidence from beating four-time champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

The Swiss will meet either countryman Roger Federer or world No.1 Rafael Nadal in Sunday night's final, with the pair meeting in their semi-final last night.








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