x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Li feels a bit luckier this time around

Li Na knows what it is like to fall at the final hurdle in Melbourne – last year, she twisted her ankle and fell over twice before losing the Australian Open final to Vicotira Azarenka. O“At least I’ll try to not fall down this time,” Li said.

Li Na says her opponent in the Australian Open women's final, Dominika Cibulkova, has a style that is similar to hers. Saeed Khan /  AFP
Li Na says her opponent in the Australian Open women's final, Dominika Cibulkova, has a style that is similar to hers. Saeed Khan / AFP

MELBOURNE // This will be Li Na’s third time in the Australian Open final and her goal, she half jokes, is to not fall down.

Li is the favourite to win Saturday’s final against Dominika Cibulkova, based on her world No 4 ranking, her experience and the fact that she already has won a major, the 2011 French Open.

But the past two weeks have proven that there is nothing predictable about this year’s Australian Open.

After a tournament of upsets, the championship is marked by who is not in it.

Gone are No 1 Serena Williams, a winner of 17 majors, and No 2 Victoria Azarenka, the two-time defending champion.

Also MIA is No 3 Maria Sharapova, the four-time grand slam winner, who was beaten in the fourth round by the unheralded but highly energetic Cibulkova.

Li, 31, knows what it is like to fall at the final hurdle in Melbourne.

Last year, she twisted her ankle and fell over twice before losing the Australian Open final to Azarenka. On the second tumble she hit the back of her head on the hard court, needing on-court treatment by a tournament doctor who assessed her for a concussion as the crowd watched.

“At least I’ll try to not fall down this time,” Li said on Thursday, after beating the Canadian teen Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4. “Last year in the final, I think I played well, but I only can say I was unlucky because falling down twice.”

It is Li’s sense of humour that shines through broken English in the on-court interviews that has made her one of the perennial crowd favourites in Melbourne.

She often makes wisecracks about her husband and former coach. After the quarter-finals, Li said she considers her tennis rackets as members of the family and has named them: Li Na 1, Li Na 2 all the way up to Li Na 8.

Looking ahead to the final, she said she expects a tough match because she and Cibulkova have similar tennis styles – they are both fast, powerful and cover the court with speed.

“She has pretty fast legs on the court,” said Li, who has a 4-0 lead against Cibulvoka in head-to-head matches. “Yeah, we play pretty similar. So, tough match. Another challenge.”

In China, Li said, there is a belief that tough times in the past means good luck ahead.

So does Li feel lucky at the Australian Open this year?

“Until now, yes,” she said.

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