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Both Radwanska and Li had been perfect on the season going into the Premier-level semifinal clash - Radwanska was 7-0 with a title in Auckland last week, Li 8-0 with a title in Shenzhen. Looking at their head-to-head, all signs pointed to a Li victory - she had won their last three meetings in 2012, and quite handily too, with scorelines of 62 61 in Montréal, 61 61 in Cincinnati and 64 62 in Beijing.
But things went very differently this time around, as Radwanska broke in a tight opening game that may have set the tone for the rest of the match, as she was never behind again. After an hour and 32 minutes the crafty No.1 seed had outfoxed the hard-hitting No.4 seed, advancing to the final, 63 64.
Not before Li saved seven match points in a late fightback, though. "I always felt like I had a chance," Li said. "Until the chair umpire says it's finished, everyone has a chance. But I was tired - I think I put a lot of energy into last night's match. I would feel 100% for one point, but then two or three to recover."
Earlier in the day Thursday, the WTA announced there will be a new Premier-level tournament coming to the calendar in 2014, in Wuhan, China - Li's hometown. "It's a special city for me," Li said. "I was born there and grew up there. If my good friends on the tour come to Wuhan, I will show how good the food they have is. And maybe they'll eat it first and then won't be able to move on the court!
"Just a joke. But I will really show them how good my hometown is if I have time."
Radwanska was understandably happy with the victory. "It was kind of like déjà vu from the Auckland final - there I think I also had seven or eight match points before I won," she said. "My nerves were good, though. I had lost a couple of times against her last year, so I just went on the court pretty relaxed. The wind was a little bit difficult, especially in the first set - a lot of framing. But the second set went better.
"Winning two tournaments in a row is a good thing and shows I'm ready for the Australian Open. I'm happy to play my best tennis from the beginning of the year and I'll do everything to win tomorrow."
Having already knocked out both Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani this week, Cibulkova went into the match in buoyant mood, and this confidence was evident from the off as 12 winners helped her ease through the opening set in under half an hour.
A momentary lapse in concentration at the start of the second, though, allowed Kerber a route back into the match; two double faults in the opening game contributing to an early service break for the German, who broke again four games later to help level the match.
Cibulkova re-established her dominance once more in the decider, racing into a 5-1 lead, before withstanding some late pressure to book her spot in the final with a 62 46 63 victory.
"My strategy today was just to play aggressive as I can but not to go crazy for it," Cibulkova said. "I was using my legs a lot today and moving very good on the court to make her to make a lot of winners.
"This is my first time playing such good tennis before the Australian Open and it really gives you a lot of confidence."