Li, Sharapova To Battle For Birmingham
Published June 12, 2010 12:00
BIRMINGHAM, UK - Li Na and Maria Sharapova will fight for the Maud Watson Trophy on Sunday after the tournament's No.1 and No.2 seeds came through tough semifinals at the $220,000 AEGON Classic on Saturday. For Sharapova, revenge will be on the agenda, for she was beaten by Li in the semis here 12 months ago.
The Russian superstar was made to work for her place in the final by an unheralded opponent who has enjoyed a breakthrough week in Birmingham. Having won her way through qualifying and beaten Sandra Zahlavova in the first round, Alison Riske beat former world No.5 Chakvetadze, ninth seed Aleksandra Wozniak and then No.3 seed Yanina Wickmayer to reach the last four.
And the 19-year-old American certainly had her moments against former world No.1 Sharapova, capitalizing on a loose game from the Russian early in the second set to send proceedings to the decider.
"Her game suits the grass courts and she's been playing some really good tennis this week," said Sharapova of the world No.185. "I let her back into the match and credit to her - she did a great job of executing that set, stayed with her game plan and kept attacking. I definitely had to change things around in the third set and step it up a bit."
Like Sharapova, who issued the fastest serve of her career (121mph) en route to her 62 46 61 win, Li was pushed the distance by fourth-seeded Aravane Rezai, prevailing 61 36 63.
"She's a tough player, she was hitting very hard," said Li of the Frenchwoman. "I started aggressively and then went a little bit backward, lost a bit of concentration at 2-0 in second set. Then in the third set, I realized I had to play like I had at the start to win.
"I'm happy to be in the final," added the Chinese No.1, who was upset by Magdalena Rybarikova in last year's trophy round. "It will be a good match. We will see who comes out the winner."
See pics from on and off the court in Birmingham in the gallery.
Sharapova and Li have met six times previously, the Russian holding a 5-1 head-to-head lead. Sharapova has now reached the final in four of seven visits to Birmingham, and will be gunning for a third title at the Edgbaston Priory Club - as well as her third of the 2010 season. Li, playing her first final since this event last year, is aiming for her first title since Gold Coast in 2008, and third overall.
"It will be good to play her again," said Sharapova of Li. "A year makes a big difference. I certainly don't like losing to the same person twice in a row - I'm a big competitor. I'm certainly going to try to turn that around."
The doubles final will also involve the No.1 and No.2 seeds, after top-seeded Liezel Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova in one semi, and second-seeded Cara Black and Lisa Raymond edged Natalie Grandin and Abigail Spears in the other.