MELBOURNE: China’s Li Na guns for her second Grand Slam title and her first in three Australian Open finals on Saturday against a player who is in some of the best form of her life.
The fourth seed, who became Asia’s first Grand Slam winner when she was crowned French Open champion in 2011, made the decider at Melbourne Park in 2011 and 2013, but lost both times.
She is determined to go one better against 20th-seeded Slovak Dominika Cibulkova.
“I really wish I can win the title at the Australian Open,” said Li, who lost to Kim Clijsters in her first Melbourne final and Victoria Azarenka last year.
“I think I’m ready. Same as her. I think both should be ready. After six matches, everyone has more confidence to prepare for the final.”
However, Li’s bitter experience of already losing twice means she is taking nothing for granted.
While the world number four is the clear favourite against the Slovak, who is 20 places lower in the rankings, she knows anything can happen on the day.
“With me and Dominika, it’s 50/50. Everyone has a chance to win the title. You come to the court, just play, don’t think too much.”
Li was a set up before losing to Clijsters in 2011, and last year she was also ahead against Azarenka but rolled her ankle twice, banging her head hard on the court the second time.
In Cibulkova, nicknamed the “pocket rocket”, she comes up against a player who has used her power off the ground and relentless running to scurry through the draw, dropping just one set.
En route she has accounted for the third, fifth, and 11th seeds in Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanksa and Simona Halep. In contrast, Li has had a relatively easy run, meeting two qualifiers and no one seeded better than 22.
Li, 31, takes far more experience into the match, while Cibulkova, 24, is in her first Grand Slam decider.
The Chinese star is also a crowd favourite due to both her dogged tennis and impish humour. She rose to stardom by winning the 2011 French Open, becoming Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion.
Cibulkova is also aiming to write her name in the history books as the first Slovak Grand Slam singles winner, and said the key was to have the belief that she can go all the way.
“You need to be 100 percent. You need to be 100 percent sure you can do it. Yes, I am (sure). Even if it turns out a different way, now I know I can do it,” she said.
“If I think of it like that, it’s a final, it’s big pressure. I want to enjoy it on the court. I don’t want to suffer on the court, that’s what I want to do.”
She added: “It’s going to be the final of a Grand Slam, so it’s going to be a pretty big match. At the end of a Grand Slam, everything counts. So I think it’s going to be a fight for every ball.”
Cibulkova, at five feet three inches (1.61m) the smallest player in the top 50, will need to overcome nerves in her first major final, as well being face-to-face with a player she has admired for years.
“Li is a great player, someone I really looked up to when I was a junior and I just want to go out there and enjoy it,” she said. AFP