By Chris Oddo/ Saturday, October 26, 2013
Li Na battled past Petra Kvitova, 6-4, 6-2, to reach the Istanbul final for the first time.
Photo Source: AP
Li Na is finishing 2013 with a bang.
The 31-year-old Wuhan, China native eased past Petra Kvitova, 6-4, 6-2 on Saturday at the WTA Championships to reach her first career final at the event and catapult Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska to become the highest-ranked Asian player in the history of the sport. She will climb to No. 3 in the world on Monday when new WTA rankings are released.
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On Saturday, she climbed past Petra Kvitova, a dangerous opponent who has become known as one of the best if not the best indoor player in women's tennis at the moment.
Kvitova came into the match having won 31 of her last 35 indoor matches, but from the start she appeared fatigued, possibly feeling the effects of a long season.
Li jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after a fast start and a barrage of errors from a lethargic-looking Kvitova, but the 23-year-old Czech would breathe deep, find her focus and rally to take four of the five next games to level the set at four apiece.
"I know, I think this is my problem for the whole tournament," Li would say in her on-court interview after the match. "I always have a pretty good start, but then I relax."
She didn't relax too long, though.
Li took the next two games to claim the first set, saving a break point in the final game and finally clinching the grueling, see-saw set in one hour.
There were some hard-hitting rallies in the first set that featured two of the tour's most aggressive baseliners, but as Kvitova's error count mounted, Li was able to gain the smallest of advantages to stay in front.
The same was true in the second set, as Kvitova would push out to a 2-1 lead before Li eventually turned the tide of the match, reeling off five straight games to put the 2011 champion away.
Kvitova had 29 errors against 14 unforced errors for the match, while Li had 18 winners against 15 unforced.
But the story, more than anythng else, might have been the disparity in the players' energy levels.
As Kvitova seemed to waver in energy and commitment, the sprightly Li bubbled with energy. She rushed to her chair after hitting an ace on game point to take a 4-2 lead, pumping her fist as she trotted.
In the next game, sensing the kill, a combo of well-struck forehands would force the error and Li would take a 5-2 lead and serve for the match.
That was the story on this day, as Li seemed to have that extra jump and edge on the big points. She converted six of ten break points, and she had energy to burn while Kvitova, meanwhile, appeared to be teetering on the edge of fatigue.
After knocking off a sweet forehand volley to get to match point in the next game (Li didn't use her new and improved net game all that much, but when she did she was effective, winning four of five at the net), Li converted her second opportunity (after a nervous double-fault on the first) when a Kvitova backhand sailed wide.
As far as her prospects for Sunday's final, Li is approaching it with the same cheeriness that she moved through her semifinal with. “You know what? It's the last match for the season. I wish I can have a good ending for 2013.”