Flavia Pennetta shocked Li Na in the semi-finals at Indian Wells on Friday, beating the Australian Open champion 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to set up a title clash with Agnieszka Radwanska, while Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and American John Isner cruised into the last four with straight-sets wins in the quarter-finals.
Li, the Chinese world No. 2 who was the top seed in the elite WTA premier event, had pounded winners past Pennetta in a crushing 6-2, 6-2 victory in the Australian Open quarter-finals in January.
However, her bid to reach the final in the California desert for the first time was hampered by a welter of forehand errors and nine double faults.
“I don’t think I was playing badly,” Li said. “I think it was a pretty high-level match. At some points, I was feeling that I still have a chance, [but] more important point I got double fault.”
Eight of her nine double faults came in the opening set, including one to hand Pennetta the set on her second set point in the tiebreaker.
Li put the double faults down to a change in the mechanics of her serve and said it was something she would just have to fight through.
“Of course, if you want to change something, you cannot change for just one or two days,” she said. “You need time to organize everything,” she added.
“I was feeling better and better, and should be OK in next tournament or tournament after,” she said.
Pennetta, ranked 21st in the world and seeded 20th here, had never made it past the fourth round in 11 prior appearances.
Now she will vie for the title today against Poland’s Radwanska, the world No. 3 and second seed who beat sixth-seeded Romanian Simona Halep 6-3, 6-4.
Djokovic hardly raised a sweat in the Californian desert as he eased to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Frenchman Julien Benneteau, before the towering Isner rode his booming serve to a 7-6(7/4), 7-6(7/3) win over Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis.
Djokovic was not at his absolute best, but was never in any real danger against the 32-year-old Benneteau, who beat him at Indian Wells eight years ago when Djokovic was still a teenager.
Djokovic, 26, raced through the opening set in less than half an hour with two service breaks and four aces, despite the windy conditions and an approaching sandstorm.
The first six games of the second set all went with serve before Djokovic reeled off the last three in a row to seal a comfortable victory in less than 70 minutes.
He broke Benneteau for a 4-3 lead when the Frenchman double faulted, then again to wrap up the win when his opponent hit a forehand long and wide.
“I felt like I was very focused on the court from the start, and it’s what I was looking for. It’s never too easy,” said Djokovic, who won the Indian Wells title in 2008 and 2011.
Isner had a tougher time against Gulbis, saving a set point before winning the opener in a tiebreaker after the first 12 games went with serve.
Isner fell behind in the second set when Gulbis found a way to break his serve, for just the second time in the tournament, but the Latvian was unable to capitalize as the American broke back and won the second tiebreaker.
Djokovic was beaten by Isner in the semi-finals at Indian Wells two years ago, losing first and third-set tiebreakers.
Djokovic will go into the semis as a heavy favorite, but Isner will not be without his supporters.
“Two years ago, I took the court believing I could win that match, so it’s much of the same here in 2014,” said Isner.
“But, I think I can draw a little bit from that [spirit] in 2012. It’s a good situation for me. I’d like to have the crowd on my side like I did two years ago,” he said.