Fri, Jan 24, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Cibulkova sets up final against Li Na

SURPRISE PACKAGE:The dynamic Dominika Cibulkova did not give Agnieszka Radwanska a chance to find her rhythm, while Li outplayed teenager Genie Bouchard

Reuters, MELBOURNE, Australia

A combination of file photographs created yesterday shows Li Na of China, left, in action in her semi-final match against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, and Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, right, playing in her semi-final match against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Photo: AFP

China’s Li Na swept past teenager Genie Bouchard into her third Australian Open final and dynamo Dominika Cibulkova joined her by humbling Agnieszka Radwanska as Melbourne Park served up two lopsided semi-finals yesterday. Li, who has lost two of the past three finals, got off to a flier in her match against Bouchard, but the Canadian stalled her progress in the second set before succumbing 6-2, 6-4.

Even Li’s electric start was put in the shade by Cibulkova’s energetic performance against fifth seed Radwanska, who barely got going before she was ushered off Rod Laver Arena a 6-1, 6-2 loser.

Slovakian Cibulkova has never been so far at a Grand Slam before and is to be joined as a first-time finalist by Stanislas Wawrinka, who won the first men’s semi-final later yesterday.

With three top seeds — Serena Williams, defending champion Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova — all victims of upsets, Li knows she will rarely have a better chance of adding another Grand Slam title to her 2011 French Open crown.

“I think is the third time, so I’m pretty close to the trophy,” Li said. “I’ll try and enjoy it and stay healthy.”

The 31-year-old, who blessed her luck after facing match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round, set off at a blistering pace by winning 20 of the first 23 points to take a 5-0 lead in just 14 minutes.

It could not last and the 19-year-old Canadian broke and held for 5-2, before Li upped her game again and wrapped up the first set with a forehand volley

The second set was an altogether tighter affair with Bouchard grabbing an early break, but the Chinese has shown this year that she is made of sterner stuff than the sometimes mentally fragile Li of previous years.

Her serve remained solid as she ramped up her accurate ground strokes and added another 22 winners to the 13 she smashed in the opening stanza to seal the victory in 86 minutes.

“I think [at the] beginning of the match I played very well,” Li said. “The second set was a little bit tighter because I was feeling that I already had one foot in the final.”

Bouchard, the world No. 31, paid tribute to Li’s performance and again reiterated that she had not been surprised to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final.

“I wouldn’t say I exceeded my expectations, but I’m happy with how I did,” the former Wimbledon junior champion said. “I’ve slowly been making my way up. I don’t want to stop here. I want to keep going. I feel like I belong in the top levels of the game.”

Cibulkova lay down on the court and kicked her legs in the air in delight after her quickfire victory over Radwanska, which made her the first Slovakian woman to reach a Grand Slam final.

The 24-year-old has been on fire at Melbourne Park this year, belying her lowly seeding by upsetting Sharapova and doling out a string of thrashings as she made her way to the last four.

The diminutive 20th seed scuttled around the Rod Laver Arena feasting on the Pole’s second serve and blasting winners from both sides.

She grabbed three breaks of serve to take the first set with a crunching backhand winner and was celebrating her victory just 33 minutes later when Radwanska netted.

“It’s like a dream. It’s something so unbelievable,” she said. “I was 100 percent ready for it and I was just doing what I had to do. That’s why I won.”

Radwanska was as bad yesterday as she had been brilliant in beating double defending champion Azarenka on Wednesday and blamed the effort of winning her quarter-final for her lackluster display.

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