Li hoping for third time lucky at Melbourne Park

Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:19am EST
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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Li Na's memories of her previous Australian Open finals are not fond ones as she prepares for a third at Melbourne Park on Saturday against first-time finalist Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

In 2011 against Kim Clijsters, she took the first set before the Belgian rallied to clinch her fourth, and final, grand slam title. Last year's final was even worse for the Chinese.

She rolled her ankle twice, fell over and smacked her head so badly doctors had to administer a concussion test and then lost 4-6 6-4 6-3 to Victoria Azarenka.

"I really wish I can win the title," Li said on Friday when asked about how much it would mean for her to win after two previous failures. "I (am) always looking forward to play back here.

"I think I'm ready."

The 31-year-old Chinese, who became Asia's first grand slam champion when she won the 2011 French Open title, was close to not making it to the final. She fought off a match point in the third round against Lucie Safarova before the fourth seed scraped to a 1-6 7-6 (2) 6-3 victory in two hours, 27 minutes.

Li said she had been had asked several pointed questions by coach Carlos Rodriguez about that performance, which had turned around her focus and propelled her into the final.

That third round match notwithstanding, Li has been rarely troubled in her path to the final though she has had one noticeable flaw - she has a tendency to take her foot off the gas when she has her opponent down for the kill.

In the semi-final against Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard she jumped out to a 5-0 lead then had to battle for the next four games as the 19-year-old sensed she could conjure a comeback to take a 2-0 lead in the second.   Continued...

Li Na of China, finalist in the women's singles, poses with a Chinese national flag at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne January 24, 2014 in this handout image provided by Tennis Australia. REUTERS/Fiona Hamilton/Tennis Australia/Handout via Reuters