China's sixth seeded Li Na on Thursday put a stop to the winning spree of reigning runner-up and No. 2 Maria Sharapova in this year's Australian Open tennis championship by inflicting a humiliating 6-2 6-2 defeat in the Semi Final.
The beaten finalist at the Melbourne Park in 2011 has set up an intriguing final for Saturday against defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who overcame injury problems to end the dream run of giant killer Sloane Stephen in the second semi final on Thursday.
The American had saved five match points and broke Azarenka while the world No.1 was serving for the match at 6-1, 5-3. The Belarusian left the court for a 10-minute treatment for a breathing problem that added to an injury on her left ankle that was hurt earlier in the set. But all worked well for Azarenka on her return, and she finished the match shortly by breaking Sloane's service.
Second seed Sharapova had only dropped nine games in her previous five matches in the run-up to the semifinal but struggled with her serve throughout her fight against Li, who in 2011 became the only Asian to win a Grand Slam title, the French Open.
Li, on the other hand, perhaps had the best match she had played recently, with an astonishing display of all-round power and experience.
She never allowed the free-swinging Russian to gain upper hand in the match, consistently attacking her taller opponent with well-placed serves, huge returns and lethal ground-strokes.
Li broke Sharapova to 5-2 when the Australian Open 2008 champion committed three straight unforced errors. She then efficiently finished the 1:33 hour contest with a swerving 160 kilometer per hour ace before Sharapova committed an unforced backhand error.
Li had lost her last three matches to Sharapova, but the 30-year-old said Thursday's semifinal match was one of the best performances in her career.
Sharapova admitted that she was always on the defense, and that her five years younger opponent was dictating the play.
In the men's section, defending champion Novak Djokovic beat David Ferrer 6-2 6-2 6-1 in the first semifinal. On Sunday, he will play the winner of Friday's second semi-final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer, looking for a hat-trick of Australian Open titles.
by RTT Staff Writer
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