Li Na of China hits a return during her semifinal match against Eugenie Bouchard of Canada at the Australian Open in Melbourne Jan. 23, 2014. Li Na won 2-0. Photo: AP
Li Na has her third and probably best chance to win the Australian Open final after advancing with a 6-2, 6-4 win over 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.
The Chinese ace will face Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova in Saturday's final after the dark horse produced a stirring display to shock fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2.
No. 4-seeded Li, the 2011 French Open champion, is the only major winner and the highest-ranked player still in contention after the fourth-round upsets of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and defending champion Victoria Azarenka's quarterfinal loss to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
Li lost last year's Australian Open final to Azarenka, after falling over and hitting her head twice on the court. She lost the 2011 decider to Kim Clijsters, her first appearance in a Grand Slam final, and recovered from that loss to win her one and only major at Roland Garros.
''Last time was a little bit tough. I will try this time to make one more step,'' Li said. ''Tough match of course in the final. I think for sure both will try fight on the court because it's one more step to take the trophy.''
Li considered quitting the tour after the French Open last year, when she was beaten in the second round and was struggling with the off-court pressure. After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the Chinese star opted against retiring and then reached the U.S. Open semifinals. Li, who turns 32 next month, has gone another step further in Australia.
After saving a match point in the third round against Lucie Safarova, she has started all her matches aggressively.
It worked against Bouchard, who didn't win a point in her first three service games in a nervous start. In the second set, the pair exchanged four service breaks in the first six games before Li finally took charge.
Fittingly, Li finished off the match with a backhand crosscourt, one of 16 backhand winners in the match and her biggest weapon against Bouchard.
The Canadian teenager was playing only her fourth Grand Slam tournament, and became just the second player from her country to reach a major semifinal.
''I think maybe she will be best player in the world. But today (I'm) so lucky,'' Li said. Bouchard attracted a big cheering section in Australia, with the group swelling in numbers after her first match on Court 15 and calling itself the ''Genie Army.''
Li jokingly apologized to the Genie Army after the match, undoubtedly increasing her own huge support base at Melbourne Park.
''Sorry about that,'' she said. ''If you guys be happy, I will go home.''