Defending champion Li Na reached the Sydney International final with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 over Petra Kvitova yesterday, ending the Czech’s bid to become No. 1 before the Australian Open.
Kvitova needed to win the Sydney International to replace Caroline Wozniacki atop the rankings when they are updated on Monday, and the Wimbledon champion was on track when she led by a set and a break.
However, Li rallied strongly to reach back-to-back finals at Sydney, where she will meet No. 3-ranked Victoria Azarenka in today’s decider. Azarenka beat Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the other semi-final.
Li reached the Australian Open final last year two weeks after winning in Sydney.
She went one better at the next major, winning the French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Li’s form dipped at the end of last season and she lost in the second round at Wimbledon and the opening round at the US Open, but she started to get back into form in the earlier rounds at Sydney.
A pep talk from her husband and coach Shan Jiang after the first set against Kvitova helped refocus Li.
“OK, he said: ‘If you play same like this, you’ll lose match easy,’” said Li, who has developed a reputation for playfully ridiculing her husband in post-match interviews.
After the win over Kvitova, who beat Wozniacki at the Hopman Cup last week, Li said she was back to about where she was at this time last year.
“I’m back and I am feeling stronger, not only in my body, but also in my mind,” Li said. “It was a big win for me today against Petra, especially after she won Istanbul [the WTA Championships] and the Hopman Cup.”
In men’s quarter-finals, 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis beat top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 7-6 (7), 6-4.
He will play Julien Benneteau, of France, who beat Alex Bogomolov Jr, of Russia, 6-2, 6-4.
Also, Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan beat third-seeded Richard Gasquet of France 6-4, 7-6 (4) to set up a semi-final against Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen, who had a 6-3, 6-3 win over the US’ Bobby Reynolds.
AP, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
Belgian veteran Olivier Rochus rallied from a break down in the third set to beat Benoit Paire’s 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4) and end the French qualifier’s giant-killing run at the Heineken Open.
The 30-year-old Rochus, a former finalist in Auckland, trailed 4-2 in the deciding set, but recovered to win in a tiebreak, ousting Paire, who had beaten former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and fourth-seeded Juan Ignacio Chela in his first two main draw matches.
Paire sent down 21 aces yesterday and dominated at times, but the dogged Rochus kept fighting, winning the match in two-and-a-half hours to set up a semi-final against eighth-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Kohlschreiber, the 2008 champion, reached the Auckland semi-finals for the third time with 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over second-seeded Nicolas Almagro.
Rochus won the first set against Paire in 37 minutes after a break in the second game. Paire, who has become a crowd favorite for his flamboyant style, looked tired early on in his sixth game after winning three matches in qualifying and two in the main draw.
Rochus dropped serve in the sixth game of the second set but immediately broke back, taking the set to 6-5 when rain forced the players from the court for two-and-a-half hours.