Like she had done so many times this week, Li came out like a house on fire - she broke, held and then broke again to storm out to a 3-0 lead against Petra Kvitova. But just like a few of her round robin matches, she eased up just that little bit, allowing Kvitova back into the match - the Czech won four of the next five games to catch up to 4-all. It was anybody's game again at the Sinan Erdem Dome.
"I know, I think this is my problem from the whole tournament," Li would say to Katrina Adams in her on-court interview after the match. "I start the match playing pretty good, but then I relax too much."
Serving in the next game, Kvitova had game point for a 5-4 lead but double faulted, and that's when the floodgates opened - Li broke, held to take the set then broke again in the first game of the second set. Kvitova won the next two games for 2-1 but it seemed the momentum had already shifted Li's way, and the No.4-seeded Chinese reeled off five games in a row to close out the No.5-seeded Czech, 64 62.
In a match between two of the WTA's hardest hitters - and streakiest players, too - it was Li who tamed her game far better on the day, compiling a positive differential of +3 (18 winners to 15 unforced errors). Meanwhile, Kvitova was far more up and down, going -15 (14 winners to 29 unforced errors).
The two players - who have always maintained a strong friendship - shared a prolonged hug at the net.
Having never even made it out of the round robin portion before, Li is now through to her first ever final at the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships. "You know what, it's going to be my last match for the season," en elated Li said in her on-court interview. "I hope I can have a good ending for 2013 now!"
Not only is Li the first Asian player ever to reach the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships final, but by virtue of her results this week she will move from No.5 to No.3 on the WTA Rankings, making her the highest-ranked Asian player in tennis history. She had been as high as No.4 before, which tied her with Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm, who had made it as high as No.4 in the world during the 1990s.
"The Top 3 was my goal for this year," Li said. "I'm so happy I could catch it in the last match."