China’s Li Na will play Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the Australian Open final after both scored comfortable semi-final victories on Thursday.
Li, the fourth seed, looked like winning in record time against Canadian 30th seed Eugenie Bouchard, but failed to maintain the pressure and progressed with a 6-2 6-4 victory.
The 2011 French Open champion is into her fourth grand slam final – and third at Melbourne Park after losing title matches to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and Victoria Azarenka last year, both in three sets.
Cibulkova belied the seedings in her 6-1 6-2 defeat of Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska to make her first grand slam final.
The fifth-seeded Radwanska had the form and the record to dominate the semi-final, but the 20th seeded treated her as she had her previous four, more highly-ranked, opponents.
Cibulkova added Radwanska to a list that at this tournament includes third seed Maria Sharapova, 11th seed Simona Halep and 16th seed Carla Suarez Navarro.
She said she approached the semi-final as she had every other match.
“Even if I made mistakes, I knew I had to go out there and go for my shots,” Cibulkova said.
“I have a lot of respect for Aga. Her defensive game is unbelievable.”
A convincing scoreline in the first of Thursday’s semis disguised a nagging fragility in Li’s game.
After bursting from the blocks and racing to a 5-0 lead in only 14 minutes, Li took the same amount of time to wrap up the set and a further 58 minutes to complete the victory.
For Li, 31, the result was as it should have been against a relatively inexperienced 19-year-old.
But she might need to do more if she is to capitalise on her arrival in a grand slam final after twice being runner-up.
Even in Li’s barnstorming opening set, she dropped serve at 5-0.
Bouchard duly held for the only time in the set before Li went to a 1-0 lead.
The Canadian then issued her own challenge in the second set.
With a more composed approach she twice broke Li’s serve, only two drop her own serve three times.
It was a performance the winner acknowledged.
“She will be No.1 in the world one day,” Li said.
While Li seems certain to be a dominant favourite in her bid to add the Australian title to the French Open she won in 2011, the weight of history is against her.
Not since Margaret Smith Court won in 1973 has any woman over the age of 30 claimed an Australian Open crown.
The list of those to have tried and failed includes some of the greatest players of the last century, including Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – and Li herself 12 months ago.