MONTRÉAL, Canada - In tennis, it's never over until you shake hands - and Li Na demonstrated that to perfection on Sunday afternoon, rallying from a 5-1 third set deficit to defeat Lucie Safarova in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup, 36 63 75. Awaiting her in Monday night's final will be Petra Kvitova.
Li had some shaky periods in the match, hitting 10 unforced errors to just four winners in the first set, then going awry again to fall back in the third; but the No.10-seeded Chinese always recovered from those periods, and eventually defeated the No.16-seeded Safarova for the sixth consecutive time.
"In the beginning I was trying to shoot as hard as I could, and I was making a lot of mistakes - so I knew I had to start putting the ball back in the court more," Li explained after the match. "This is tennis. You have to put the ball over the net and back in the court. It looks easy, but sometimes it can be hard to do.
"When I was 5-1 down, I thought if I shot hard four in a row, I'd lose the match. So I had to change a little bit. I was just trying to take it point by point.
"When I got back to 5-4, my serve game, I think it was more exciting for the fans. They were supporting me a lot. I'm happy I could win the match."
Safarova was disappointed afterwards, but very gracious to her opponent.
"Closing a match out is always a little bit of a nervous moment," Safarova said. "Because she was doing quite a lot of mistakes in the games before, I didn't put enough pressure, and she used that situation to turn it around. She started to play much better at that moment, and it just started slipping away.
"She plays very fast and flat. She just knows how to play me."
Safarova has a silver lining, however: after years of hovering just outside the Top 20, even going as high as No.21 earlier this year, the Czech lefty will finally break into the Top 20 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
"I had a great week here. My performance in all the matches was very high," Safarova said. "Of course I'm very disappointed about today, because it was so close, but that's tennis. Until the last point is finished it can still change. I'll try to forget this one and keep up my level - I have Cincinnati right away this week."
The second semifinal saw No.5 seed Kvitova take out No.7 seed Caroline Wozniacki, 36 62 63, unable to hit through Wozniacki's one unforced error in the first set but cruising through the second set and, after a short rain delay, winning the third set comfortably too against the former World No.1.
"I managed to win the first set and then didn't manage to hang onto my lead," Wozniacki said. "Obviously I would have liked to win in two sets after I won the first set, but that didn't happen. You just need to regroup yourself and go out there and give it your all in the last set - and it just wasn't enough today."
Li leads Kvitova in their head-to-head series, 2-1, though it is streaky - while Kvitova won their first meeting handily, Li had to rally from 3-0 down in the third to win their second meeting and 61 31 down to win their third meeting.
"I like her as a person. She's really funny," Kvitova said of Li. "We've played each other three times and I'm losing - so I have to win tomorrow to have revenge and make it 2-2. She's playing great tennis here; I will try my best."