Li Na
Li Na

Li Na has advanced to her second Australian Open final in three years after dismantling the seemingly invincible Maria Sharapova in their semi-final clash at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

Sharapova headed into the semi-final having conceded just nine games in her five previous matches but Li made a mockery of that record by winning 6-2 6-2 in one hour and 33 minutes as the temperature on Rod Laver Arena headed well north of 30 degrees.

The result saw Li end a five-match losing streak against the 25-year-old Russian which stretched back to 2009.

The scoreline was arguably a bit misleading as the contest produced a total of 21 deuces, but Li won the points that mattered and was assisted by her ability to push Sharapova well behind the baseline more than she had been all tournament.

The reigning French Open champion struggled to deal with this tactic and by being denied the chance to play her dominating ground strokes, Sharapova was rendered far less potent than she had been for most of the 2013 Australian Open.

Li also beat Sharapova at her own game by employing an effective power-hitting approach which the Russian couldn't cope with.

But while Li was superb by hitting more winners (21-17), winning more second-serve points (15-6) and breaking Sharapova five times in total, after she had previously been broken only twice all tournament, the 2008 Australian Open champion was also her own worst enemy.

A rusty Sharapova committed far more double-faults (6-1) and total unforced errors (32-18) as she was denied the chance to redeem herself for losing last year's final to Victoria Azarenka.

In what was a sign of things to come for Sharapova, she began the match with consecutive double faults before having her service broken in the first game by Li who went on to open up a 3-1 lead.

Li's strong hitting game was serving her well against the usually powerful Sharapova and the world number six earned a double break in the fifth game, which included four deuces, after she converted the third of her break-point opportunities of the game to lead 4-1.

Sharapova immediately broke back but Li returned the favour in the Russian's very next service game.

The world number two again saved a pair of break points in the game but couldn't save a third when she sent her forehand shot from well behind the baseline into the net.

Li quickly brought up three set points in the next game and wasted only one of them as she took the first set 6-2 in 48 minutes.

The first four service games of the second set were held but Sharapova would be made to pay for squandering two break-opportunities in the second game when Li broke the four-time grand slam champion in the fifth game, after trailing it 40-15, to lead 6-2 3-2.

Sharapova brought up another break-point chance in the next game but again failed to convert it as Li went up 4-2.

In seventh game, Sharapova led 40-30 but three unforced errors in a row handed Li another break to go up 5-2 and the Chinese sixth seed served out the match in the next game to set up a date with either reigning champion Azarenka or American teenage sensation Sloane Stephens in the final.


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