Tennis: China's Li Na produced one of the performances of this year’s Australian Open today, crushing Maria Sharapova to book her place in the women’s singles final in Melbourne.
Sharapova entered the semi-final on a supreme run of form, having set a tournament record of conceding just nine games en route to the last four.
But the Russian had no answer to Li, whose rich variety of shots and willingness to take risks paid off, giving the Chinese player a 6-2 6-2 win.
“I always play well here,” said Li, who became the first Asian player to win a grand slam crown at the French Open in 2011.
Sharapova, the second seed, was gracious in defeat. “I think she played a really great match,” she said. “She was certainly much more aggressive than I was, dictating the play.”
Li meets defending champion Victoria Azarenka in Saturday’s final after the Belarussian beat Sloane Stephens of the US in a match marred by controversy.
With Azarenka on course for victory, she took a medical time-out immediately after squandering five match points in trying to serve out the match against her 19-year-old opponent.
She returned 10 minutes later to win the next game and complete a 6-1 6-4 win, and later denied that she was guilty of gamesmanship.
In her post-match press conference, she claimed that she had been suffering from a locked rib which left her struggling to breathe.
However in the on-court interview straight after her victory, she made no mention of the injury and hinted she had simply required time to calm her nerves.
When asked why she left the court, she said: “I almost did the choke of the year. At 5-3 and having so many chances I couldn’t close it out.
“I felt a little bit overwhelmed and, realising I was one step away, nerves got into me.”
Speaking to the media an hour later, she offered a different version of events, saying: “I did not understand what she asked me because the question was about how I had a few difficulties and why I went off.
“I completely thought of a different thing, why I couldn’t close out the match, that I had a few difficulties.
“I understand the whole situation right now but it was just a simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess that’s my bad.”