Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Li upsets top seed and advances to final at Australian Open

Under stress, you regress. That's what we sometimes say in my profession. You can describe the first half of the Australian Open semifinal between Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na in different ways, I suppose, but the gist of it is: Li went to pieces mentally for a set and a half. This is not to take anything away from the top seed, but Li (the 9th seed) was just a bundle of nerves (a trait from her past) from the moment she stepped onto the court in Rod Laver Arena. She couldn't make her racquet do what her head told her to do, and her usually-dangerous forehand broke down early in the match.

Down a set (6-3) and a break, Li broke Wozniacki at 3-4, which could have been a turning point, but she immediately double-faulted, made a few unfathomable shots, and was broken back. But she saved a match point by getting her forehand to work once more, then broke Wozniacki--again using the forehand--to bring the second set to 5-all. Li then turned into a different player (actually, the one we've been watching throughout the tournament), held her serve, and a tense game followed, with Wozniacki serving at 5-6. Finally, Li broke (on her second set point) via a double fault from Wozniacki.

Wozniacki broke early in the third, and went up 2-1, but then was broken back at love. By this time, Li was cooking her forehand and went up 40-0 on her own serve, then hit a backhand into the net, but held at 15. Wozniacki then netted a volley and double-faulted, after going up 30-0. Li hit a forehand winner to get a break point, but didn't convert until she had her second chance on an ad point. By this time, Li looked fresher and more confident than Wozniacki, but--against the Dane--even confidence and a break doesn't mean an opponent can relax; Wozniacki proved that by breaking Li to put the players back on serve.

Li broke Wozniacki to go up 5-3, then immediately went up 30-0 on her own serve. Wozniacki stopped the bleeding for a moment, then Li hit one barely out, and it was 30-all. Li, however, was able to win the match on her first match point when Wozniacki hit a forehand long.

Li did this the hard way. She overcame her problems with her nerves and, subsequently, her forehand, but struggled with her overheads and volleys right to the end. She also made 51unforced errors, though the majority of those occurred in the first half of the match. Nevertheless, Li's comeback was very impressive, and her on-court interview with Sam Smith was quite funny.

Li is the first Chinese player to make it to the final of a major tournament.


svente said...

Yeah, a topsy-turvy match that was, at times, difficult to watch. Both players looked great; both looked shaky. I'm glad to see Li get through, I've liked her for a while.

Diane said...

Li has been through some stuff, what with her rebellion against Chinese tennis authorities, her absence from the tour, and all her injuries. It's great that she's into the final.