Australian Open: Li Na beats Sharapova to enter final

Melbourne, Jan 24 (IANS) Former French Open champion Li Na of China swept second-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 to reach her second Australian Open women's singles final here Thursday.

China's top player reached her first Grand Slam final at the Melbourne Park in 2011 but lost to Kim Clijsters of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 3-6 in the final, just before she won Asia's first Grand Slam title in the French Open, reports Xinhua.

"I'm very happy now. Not so many players can reach the Grand Slam finals three times. I insisted and I made back to this stage. It's something worth to be proud of," said Li.

Sharapova, who only lost a historical tournament-low nine games in her previous five matches, struggled with her serve from the very beginning of the match. She double faulted twice in her first serve game, allowing Li to break her in the first game.

Li held to lead 2-0 and then broke again for 4-1 with a cross-court return. Sharapova fought her way to three break points in the sixth game and secured the chance when Li missed a return.

Li returned the favour in the following game to lead 5-2. The No.6 seed served for the set, racing to 40-0 and wrapped the first set up in 48 minutes.

Li took the first service break in the second set to remain on track with a 3-2 lead, grabbed a second at 5-2 and served out the match. Sharapova saved one match point but Li scored an ace to take advantage again and didn't waste the second chance.

"In the beginning of the match I was nervous. I was happy I came back," said Li.

"Li played a really great match. She was certainly much more aggressive than I was and I was always on the defence. I was making too many unforced errors," said Sharapova.

The straight-sets victory improved Li's record against Sharapova to 5-8. The pair met three times in 2012 and the Russian won all clashes.

Li will play against defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who defeated 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens in the other semifinal.

"2011 is the first time for me to a Grand Slam final. I was a little bit shocked because I didn't know what I should do. No one told me what I should do on the court. But this time I got more experiences, so I think it should be better," said Li.

Losing to Clijsters in her first Grand Slam final made Li Na hungry.

"That's the first time I was feeling I was really close to the title. I think this time should be a different story."

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