CHINA’S Li Na sent a wayward Maria Sharapova crashing out of the Australian Open semi-finals and says there will be no repeat of her capitulation to Kim Clijsters in the 2011 final.
Li crushed second seed Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena, overpowering the in-form Russian with a breathtaking display of power hitting to set up a second Melbourne Park title bid against defending champion Victoria Azarenka.
Two years ago, Li took the first set against Clijsters but crumbled under the pressure and took her frustrations out on Chinese fans. “In 2011, [the] first time to the grand slam final, I was a little bit shocked because I didn’t know what I should do,” Li said. “Also no-one told me what I should do on the court but this time I’ve got more experience, so I think I should be better.”
The loss to Clijsters spurred Li to win her only major title at the French Open a few months later, but the 30-year-old endured more than 18 months in the grand slam wilderness until her stunning revival in Melbourne.
Many of Li’s struggles have been in dealing with the expectations of her home country of 1.3 billion people but few nerves were on display as the sixth seed demolished Sharapova.
The Russian had conceded only nine games in the tournament and bullied a succession of weaker opponents on her way to the semi-final. But Li broke her three times to wrap up the first set, then weathered a fierce challenge on her own serve in the second before winning on her second matchpoint when the Russian netted.
Four-times grand slam champion Sharapova finished with 17 winners and 32 unforced errors, and with her tactic of attacking Li’s forehand failing to come off, threw frustrated glances at her Swedish coach Thomas Hogstedt, former mentor to Li.
Sharapova said: “She played a really great match. She was certainly much more aggressive. I was always on the defence.”