MELBOURNE, Australia - Li Na overcame some early resistance from Julia Goerges and moved through to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Sunday afternoon, her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since her famous French Open victory in 2011. Next up will be Agnieszka Radwanska.
In their first career meeting Li and Goerges put on an impressive display of power on Hisense Arena, trading big serves, big returns and big groundstrokes - and Goerges had her chances, going up an early break in the first game and, eventually, even holding a set point at 6-5 in the first set tie-break. But Li's experience was just too great, having been in this situation many times before, and the No.6-seeded Chinese took that breaker and eventually cruised past the No.18-seeded German, 76(6) 61.
"The tie-break was very important today - I wasn't just set point down, I was 5-3 down too," Li said. "I just tried not to think about the score. I was really trying to think point by point. When she missed the ball on her set point in the tie-break, I was really happy to just still be there in the first set.
"After the first set, I think she broke down a little bit in her mind."
Li's victory put an end to a six-tournament-long drought at the Grand Slams, where she hadn't gotten back to a quarterfinal since winning at Roland Garros. It was the third-longest drought in the Open Era.
"I'm really looking forward to the quarterfinal," Li commented. "It has been one and a half years, I'm always losing in the fourth round. So for me it was very important to win today's match."
The night match saw No.4 seed Radwanska take out Ana Ivanovic, using her trademark mix of angles, spins and redirects to outdo the No.13 seed, 62 64. Radwanska ended it with back-to-back aces.
"I think I played very well. I'm especially happy I kept the same level from the beginning to the end," Radwanska said. "That's why I was able to close this match out in straight sets tonight."
And that wasn't her only straight set win of the year - she's a perfect 13-0 in 2013, and all of those have come in straight sets, only facing one set point against American Jamie Hampton in Auckland.
"What can I say? I'm just very happy I've been able to play at this very high level," Radwanska said. "Already 13 matches not even losing a set - I hope I can keep going for three more."
Radwanska not only reached her fourth Australian Open quarterfinal, the most quarterfinals she has reached at any one Grand Slam, but she is now just the second player since the Australian Open moved to its January slot in 1987 to win back-to-back lead-up titles and then make it all the way to the quarterfinals here - Elena Dementieva did that in 2009, and went one further to the semis.
Ivanovic was impressed with the play of Radwanska, who has now beaten her five consecutive times.
"Obviously I'm disappointed right now," Ivanovic said in her post-match press conference. "I feel I was mis-timing a lot of balls in the first set; I feel like I started playing better in the second set.
"But she's a really tough player. The rankings don't lie - she's there because she deserves it."
The former World No.1 elaborated on why the World No.4 is so dangerous. "She gives you time, and then all of a sudden she goes for it," Ivanovic said. "She places the ball really well. She's obviously very talented and has great hands. She was placing the serves really well, too, and it's hard to read it. She can do either side of the ball toss, so that's why she's successful at it. She's very tough to play."
Li leads Radwanska in their head-to-head series, 5-4, but they have mixed momentum - Li won their last three meetings in 2012 fairly routinely, but Radwanska won their only 2013 meeting in Sydney.
"We've played so many times in the last couple of months. It's never easy playing her," Radwanska said. "She's a very consistent player, serves very well and moves very well. For sure I have to play my hundred percent to beat her. It was really tough in Sydney - we'll see how it is here."