Defending champion Li Na of China moved into the Sydney International final with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 over Petra Kvitova on Thursday, ending the Czech player’s bid to become world No. 1 before the Australian Open.
Kvitova needed to win the Sydney international to replace Caroline Wozniacki at No. 1 at the start of next week’s rankings and the Wimbledon champion was on track when she led by a set and a break.
But Li rallied strongly in the second and third sets to reach back-to-back finals at Sydney, where she’ll meet No. 3-ranked Victoria Azarenka on Friday’s. Azarenka beat Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the other semi later Thursday.
Li reached the Australian Open final last year two weeks after winning in Sydney. She went one better at the next major, winning the French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Li’s form dipped at the end of last season and she lost in the second round at Wimbledon and the opening round at the U.S. Open but she started to get back into form in the earlier rounds at Sydney.
A pep-talk from her husband and coach Shan Jiang after the first set against Kvitova helped refocus Li.
“OK, he say, ‘If you play same like this, you’ll lose match easy,’” said Li, who has developed a reputation for playfully ridiculing her husband in post-match interviews.
After the win over Kvitova, who beat Wozniacki at the Hopman Cup last week, Li said she’s back to about where she was at this time last year.
Asked if she was in better or worse form, Li simply said: “I think the same.”
In men’s quarterfinals, Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan beat third-seeded Richard Gasquet of France 6-4, 7-6 (4) to set up a semifinal against Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen, who had a 6-3, 6-3 win over American Bobby Reynolds.