AO Saturday: Li Vs Cibulkova
Published January 24, 2014 12:12
Rod Laver Arena
 Li Na (CHN #4) vs.  Dominika Cibulkova (SVK #24)
Head-to-head: Li leads 4-0
When Dominika Cibulkova arrived in Australia at the end of December she was just another talented twentysomething waiting to make the transition from Top 20 player to Grand Slam contender.
Speaking in the build-up to the Australian Open, Cibulkova admitted that she often compares herself to her peers and believes she has the talent to match any of them. This fortnight, she has proved true to her word, knocking out Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska to become the first Slovakian to reach a major final.
In the semifinals, Cibulkova produced some characteristically hellacious ball-striking to stymie Radwanska and her box of tricks over two one-sided sets. Even more impressive than the constant stream of winners, though, was the No.20 seed's composure.
"Of course it was not easy when I was up in the second set," Cibulkova said after her semifinal win. "The thought started to come that I could win. I have to say, I was 100% ready for it and I was just doing what I had to do. That's why I won."
The Slovak will need to play as well, if not better, in the final where she comes up against last year's runner-up, Li Na.
"You know, she's been in the finals of Grand Slam many times. She already won a Grand Slam, so she knows how it is," she added. "I'm playing my first final, so that's something beautiful - it's like a dream - so I will just go out there and play my best."
In their four career meetings, Cibulkova has taken just one set from Li, who booked her return to the final with a straight set win over the tournament's other breakthrough act, Eugenie Bouchard.
Li undoubtedly has the power - she struck 35 winners against Bouchard - to put Cibulkova on the back foot and crucially the experience of not only competing but also winning on tennis' grandest stages.
Since becoming Asia's first Grand Slam winner three years ago when she triumphed at the French Open, Li has been a constant figure at the business end of the showpiece events. And after a few recent near misses, she is looking to stay the course this time.
"This is the third time I've reached the final here, so I've been pretty close to the trophy," Li said.
Twelve months ago, she came within two games of victory against Azarenka in a see-saw final that also saw Li suffer two dramatic baseline tumbles. "At least I'll try to not fall down this time! Because last year in the final I think I played well but I only can say I was unlucky because I fell on my ankle at important moments," she added.
While fortune was not smiling on her on that day, Li certainly rode her luck early on in this year's tournament, recovering from a match point down to defeat Lucie Safarova in the third round. This proved to be the wake-up call she needed and the following three matches have seen the No.4 seed drop just 12 games.
"Yeah, for sure, I was really feeling after the match that I was getting a second life in this tournament," she said. "In China, we say that if you have a tough time and you get through it, then it means you're lucky. Or maybe it's evening things out from last year, I don't know!"
Road To The Final
First Round: d. Ana Konjuh, 62 60 (1:01)
Second Round: d. Belinda Bencic, 60 76(5) (1:20)
Third Round: d. Lucie Safarova, 16 76(2) 63 (2:37)
Fourth Round: d. Ekaterina Makarova, 62 60 (0:59)
Quarterfinals: d. Flavia Pennetta, 62 62 (1:07)
Semifinals: d. Eugenie Bouchard, 62 64 (1:26)
First Round: d. Francesca Schiavone, 63 64 (1:37)
Second Round: d. Stefanie Voegele, 60 61 (0:57)
Third Round: d. Carla Suárez Navarro, 61 60 (0:59)
Fourth Round: d. Maria Sharapova, 36 64 61 (1:32)
Quarterfinals: d. Simona Halep, 63 60 (1:00)
Semifinals: d. Agnieszka Radwanska, 61 62 (1:10)