SYDNEY, Australia - Li Na and Petra Kvitova kept their streaky head-to-head pattern alive at the Apia International Sydney on Thursday, with Li rallying from 61 31 down to return to the final of the Premier-level tournament.
Li, who won this title a year ago to become the first Chinese player ever to win a Premier-level title, looked in serious trouble early against Kvitova, losing the first set in just 26 minutes and getting broken again early in the second set.
"I didn't know what happened on the court. She was playing so flat and deep. I had no chance to hit the ball back deep," Li said. "I called my coach to the court and he said if I kept playing like that, I would lose the match easily. Like maybe after 50 minutes we could go to the airport. I'm not even joking.
"He said I have to believe I can do better, just try to play my best."
From 61 54 down, Li won five straight games to take the second set and build a 2-0 lead in the third, holding onto that break and finishing particulary strong - she won 12 of the last 13 points to seal a 16 75 62 victory over Kvitova.
"Yeah, I'm back," Li said after reaching her first WTA final since winning the French Open last June. "I'm feeling stronger, in the body and mind. I'm just trying to do better - not like what I was doing the last half of last year.
"My goal every year is I want to do better than the year before."
The last time Li and Kvitova played each other, in the fourth round of the French last year, Kvitova led 3-0 third set but Li won six games in a row to prevail, 26 61 63; in their only other career meeting, Kvitova steamrolled Li, 63 61.
Kvitova, who would have assumed No.1 by winning this week's title, talked about the match afterwards. "In the beginning I played really fast and well. It's normal if you play too well, you will come down a little bit. That was the problem. It's life.
"She played very well. Many of us can be at the top, and she's one of us."
Li has now won her last three matches against Top 2 players, beating No.1 Caroline Wozniacki at last year's Australian Open and a No.2-ranked Maria Sharapova at the WTA Championships in November. Kvitova is currently No.2.
Speaking of big wins, a day before Agnieszka Radwanska had become the first Pole to beat a reigning No.1, ousting Wozniacki - in Thursday's second semi she was in top form again in the first set but couldn't keep it going and fell to good friend Victoria Azarenka in three entertaining sets, 16 63 62.
"The way I started today, I was a little bit off, I think. I was missing my shots," Azarenka said. "But Agnieszka started really well. It was a completely different game from yesterday, so I didn't really adjust too well. But I'm glad I could fight through my mistakes and through the slow start and finish really strong."
Azarenka and Li, the No.3 and No.4 seeds, respectively, will meet in the final on Friday night. Azarenka won their most recent meeting handily, at the WTA Championships, but Li leads their overall head-to-head series, 4-2.
"I think she showed some excellent fighting spirit as well today," Azarenka said of Li. "She has obviously played great in Australia for the last couple of years. I'm looking forward to it - it's a great opportunity to get one last challenge here."
The doubles final will follow the singles final, pitting the world's Top 2 teams, Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik (reigning Wimbledon champions) against Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond (reigning US Open champions).