Melbourne, Jan 27 (AP) Kim Clijsters cruised into theAustralian Open final and will now play for the title againstLi Na, who overcame top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki to becomethe first Chinese player to reach the championship match at aGrand Slam.
Li rallied to win the first of the women''s semifinals3-6, 7-5, 6-3 today, saving match point when Wozniacki wasserving at 5-4 in the second set.
U.S. Open champion Clijsters dictated play from the startagainst No. 2-ranked Vera Zvonareva and won it 6-3, 6-3 -repeating the result of their U.S. Open final.
Zvonareva had reached the previous two finals at themajors. And she had two break points in the eighth game of thesecond set but squandered both and Clijsters won four straightpoints to make it 5-3, then served out for the match.
Clijsters was the only Grand Slam winner to qualify forthe semifinals.
The 27-year-old Belgian is back into the Australian Openfinal for the first time since her loss to Justine Henin in2004. She has won the U.S. Open three times - including bothsince she returned from retirement in 2009 - but has yet towin a major outside America.
She attributed her recent success to her ability to "riseon the occasion" - learned after losing the first four GrandSlam finals she contested.
"I''ve been on tour for a while and I''ve played bigmatches and not always won them, but although I''ve lost themsometimes they really do teach you a lot of things," she said.
"And that that has definitely helped me now that I''m a littleolder."
Li is into her first major final, but is growing inconfidence after coming off a comeback win over the No.
1-ranked player and her victory over Clijsters in the final ofthe tuneup event at Sydney, where she came back from 5-0 downin the first set to win it in straight sets.
Wozniacki, playing at a major for the first time with theNo. 1 ranking, had match point at 5-4 and 40-30 in the secondset before Li rallied. Another 66 minutes later, Li served andwon on her first match point.
Li lost to Serena Williams in two tiebreak sets in thesemifinals here last year in her previous best run at a major.
Her trip to the final is just another first for Li, whowas the first Chinese player to win a tour-level title and thefirst to enter the top 10. She is also the first player fromAsia to reach a Grand Slam singles final. (MORE) AP SNK
"I''m so happy I can be the first Chinese player to come to a final - I always do the first one!" she said in alighthearted, courtside interview in which she joked aboutlosing sleep on the eve of the match because her coach-husbandShan Jiang was snoring.
Asked what motivated her comeback, she deadpanned: "Prizemoney."
Li looked down and out after the first set, when she made17 unforced errors and struggled for consistency. She finishedwith 51 unforced errors, but that was a reflection of herpushing Wozniacki to the extremes.
She said it was important for the development of tennisin China, and joked that it could give the sport some profilefor more than a month.
"Good for my tennis career. Good for me; good for myteam. Maybe good for China tennis," she said. "Of course thisis good experience for my whole life, because many player,they play long time, but they never come to the final for aGrand Slam.
"Today I get it, so feeling I can do well in next twodays."
Wozniacki could have ended the match in 1 hour, 29minutes, but Li hit a forehand down the line, forcing an errorand saving match point. It sparked a revival. She broke inthat game to make it 5-5, held at love and then broke herDanish rival''s serve again - after Wozniacki three times hadgame points to force a tiebreaker - to make it even at one setapiece.
They traded breaks twice in the third set before Li heldher nerve to finish it off when Wozniacki miscued a forehand.
The 20-year-old Wozniacki was under pressure from heropening match in Australia, with critics questioning thelegitimacy of the No. 1 ranking she gained last Octoberdespite her never having won a major. She lost the 2009 U.S.
Open final to Clijsters, but has never returned to a final.
Wozniacki ensured she''ll retain the No. 1 ranking byreaching the semifinals - after coming back from a set and abreak down to beat French Open champion Francesca Schiavone inthree sets - but she''ll no doubt be answering questions abouther ranking for tournaments to come.
"I had a match point and I didn''t take it," Wozniackisaid. "Sometimes in tennis it''s one ball that can changeeverything.
"I didn''t get my match point. From then on, well, she wasjust better at the most important points - she won the mostimportant one, which was the last one.
"It''s quite difficult to get through this one ...
Hopefully I''ll get many more chances in the future." (AP) SNK