Heaven knows what would have happened to Li Na’s marriage if she had lost her Australian Open semi-final against Caroline Wozniacki. The 28-year-old world No 11 became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam singles final when she beat Wozniacki 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 here today, but revealed afterwards that her husband and coach, Jiang Shan, had not been entirely helpful in the build-up to the biggest win of her life.
“Of course you’re nervous going into a final,” she said in a courtside interview after her victory. “I didn’t have a good evening last night. My husband was snoring. I kept waking up every hour.” The crowd’s laughter had barely died down when Li was asked what had got her through the tension of the third set. “Prize money,” she said, bringing the house down for a second time.
Li, who will win Aus$2.2m (about £1.38m) if she wins Saturday’s final or half that amount if she loses, deserved her victory for the way she fought back after a poor first set. Li looked nervous at the start and made 17 unforced errors to Wozniacki’s four as the 20-year-old Dane took the first set in just 29 minutes.
When Wozniacki broke to lead 5-4 in the second set the world No 1 appeared to have one foot in the final, but on match point Li hit a big forehand down the line to stay in the contest. A backhand error by Wozniacki and a forehand winner by her opponent gave Li the break back at 5-5. Two games later, on set point to Li, Wozniacki served a double fault to send the semi-final into a deciding set.
Having looked in distress in the early stages, when she kept looking in despair towards her husband, Li had by now stolen the momentum. At 4-3 Li made the decisive break and then served out for the match. From 30-30 Wozniacki hit a forehand long at the end of a lengthy rally and then put a forehand wide. “I’m so proud to be the first Chinese player to make a Grand Slam singles final,” Li said afterwards.
Li is unbeaten this year, having won her only build-up tournament in Sydney, where she beat Clijsters in the final. She will climb to No 5 in the world rankings if she wins the title and to No 7 if she is beaten. Wozniacki had guaranteed she would stay at No 1 in the rankings when she won her quarter-final.
* In the final Li will play Kim Clijsters, who beat Vera Zvonareva, the No 2 seed, 6-3, 6-3 in just 73 minutes. Clijsters, runner-up here seven years ago, played some of her best tennis of the fortnight to justify her position as the pre-tournament favourite.
“I lifted my level compared to my other matches,” Clijsters said afterwards. “I've played in a lot of big matches and you learn from them. I just keep fighting and try to be the last one standing.”
The match was a repeat of last year’s US Open final, which Clijsters won 6-2, 6-1. Today’s result means that Clijsters will replace Zvonareva at No 2 in the world rankings in next week’s updated list.
Clijsters, who also thrashed Zvonareva 6-2 6-1 in last year's U.S. Open final, will replace the Russian as the world number two with her seventh win in their 10 meetings.