ISTANBUL, Turkey - Li Na rolled past a visibly struggling Victoria Azarenka at the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships - Istanbul on Friday, a very meaningful win - not only will she now finish first place in the White Group with a 3-0 record, but she will also bring Jelena Jankovic with her to the semifinals.
Li looked very sharp from the outset, her serve, groundstrokes and volleys hitting their mark time and time again as she stormed out to a 3-0 lead. The No.2-seeded Azarenka temporarily stopped her momentum, squeaking out two games in a row to close the gap to 3-2, but from there she was visibly struggling with an injury, and the No.4-seeded Li pounced with eight games in a row for a 62 50 lead.
Azarenka scrounged up a hold of serve, but Li quietly served it out at love in the next game, 62 61.
"I know this is not the best way to win the match," Li said in her on-court interview afterwards. "I saw her a little bit bothered with her back but she kept playing, so it was very tough for me mentally.
"If she were healthy she would have been a very tough opponent today. Unfortunately she wasn't healthy. I have to enjoy this moment, but I hope the injury isn't too bad and she can come back soon."
Li finished the match with an impressive +20 differential of winners to unforced errors (28 to 8).
Not only did Li improve to 3-0 in the White Group and finish in first place, but she is now through to the semifinals of the WTA Championships for the first time in three tries, and there's even more - if the World No.5 reaches the final here, which is one win away, she will rise to No.3 in the world after the tournament, making her the highest-ranked player from Asia, male or female, in tennis history.
Until now the Chinese was tied with Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm for highest-ranked Asian player in tennis history - Date-Krumm made it as high as No.4 in the 1990s, and Li has been to No.4 too.
By virtue of Li's win over Azarenka in the first match of the day, Jankovic is going to finish second place in the White Group, no matter how she does in her match against Sara Errani later in the day.