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Li Survives Bencic Assault

Li Na rolled through the first set but twice had to battle back from a break down in the second set to beat Swiss teen Belinda Bencic. The World No.4's sense of humor shone in the press room afterwards.

Published January 15, 2014 12:14

Li Survives Bencic Assault
Belinda Bencic, Li Na

MELBOURNE, Australia - With a very unfamiliar opponent across the net coming on strong, Li Na showed nerves of steel to win at the Australian Open, beating Belinda Bencic in a tight one, 60 76(5).

The match was a story of two halves, with Li blasting through the first set at love in 22 minutes but having the fight of her life in the second set, twice going down a break and - after clawing her way back to force a tie-break - coming within two points of a third set with the breaker level at 5-all.

But there's a reason Li has established herself as one of the top players in the world, and it's coming through on the big points - back-to-back winners from 5-all in the breaker, including a huge backhand down the line on match point, sealed the 58-minute second set and passage through to the third round.

"Nobody says if you win the first set easily you can win the second set easily - that's why we play best of three sets," Li said. "She played very well. I think she gave me a very tough time at the end of the second set. But I was really happy that in the end I could use my experience and win the match."

Bencic's game reminded Li of one of her own contemporaries. "She played exactly like Martina Hingis," Li said. "Her serve was more flat and on the deuce side she had more slice, but she was very similar."

In the first round, Li beat the youngest player in the draw, 16-year-old Ana Konjuh - Bencic, also 16, was the second-youngest player in the draw. Li was asked to compare the two up-and-coming stars.

"They're totally different," Li said. "The first one was hitting more aggressively, and today's had more control. But I didn't like the way she was hitting the ball today, because she was using a lot of my power to move me around and make me run a lot out there on the court. So it was difficult today."

Li was then asked which one of Konjuh and Bencic is better - with hilarious results.

"Don't try to ask that, okay?" she said to laughter in the press room. "Both players are pretty good!"

There were more laughs in the press room when Li was asked if she felt like an 'old lady' when playing against the two 16-year-olds. "No - I think I'm mostly young in this room, right?" she replied.

Bencic was thrilled with the experience. "I think in the first set it was quite a lesson, but in the second set I played better and I tried to be more aggressive," she said. "But it was just an amazing feeling to be out there. I've always seen that court on TV, and I've always said I want to play there, and today I played there. And now it was a great experience playing against Li Na on Rod Laver."

Awaiting Li in the third round is No.26 seed Lucie Safarova, who beat Lucie Hradecka, 67(4) 63 60.

Li leads Safarova in their head-to-head series, 6-1, winning their last six matches in a row.

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