Li Na continues late-career surge, reaches final against Serena Williams in Istanbul

Li Na continues late-career surge, reaches final against Serena Williams in Istanbul

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
Li Na continues late-career surge, reaches final against Serena Williams in Istanbul

Li Na of China returns a shot to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic during their semifinal tennis match at the WTA Championship in Istanbul, Oct. 26. AP photo

Li Na continued her remarkable late-career surge by reaching the final of the WTA Championships in Istanbul, the tour's flagship season-ending tournament, for the first time on Oct. 26.

The 31-year-old did so with a convincing 6-4, 6-2 win over Petra Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion from the Czech republic who won the title two years ago.

Li Na will play in the final tomorrow against the titleholder Serena Williams, who struggled past Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. 

Already the first Chinese singles player to win a Grand Slam and now assured of a highest ever season-end world ranking of at least number three, Li's latest victory suggested she is improving at an age when many players are deemed to be in decline.

It was very much a reward for positive early groundstroke attacking from both wings and a ratio of unforced errors significantly lower than Kvitova's.

The former titleholder projected more than 20 of these, several at important moments, although Kvitova also produced spells of sustained brilliance, particularly with her hard-to-read forehand, indicating that she was always dangerous.

Li had already commented on her age, with a mixture of irony and self-evident comment. Asked about the possibility of a final with Serena Williams, who is 32, Li said: "The oldest players have more experience on court." She added: "This year I was feeling more, how you say, confident. I more understand what I should do on the court and off the court." Li also seems to have managed her schedule better and certainly reserved some of her best tennis for the season's climax.

She thwarted a Kvitova comeback from 0-3 down to 4-4 in the first set by winning a long ninth game, returning serve well and always seeking to get the first good strike into the rally.

In the process she saved two game points which might otherwise have created momentum for Kvitova to push on to win the first set, and Li also gained reward for pressurising the second serve when Kvitova delivered a crucial double fault on the second deuce.

Li converted that break point chance with a fine counter-hitting winner, and advanced to break serve again immediately at the start of the second set.

'Exciting, nervous, and relax, and focus'

Although she lost that advantage, two more breaks at 3-2 and 5-2 put Li in a dominant position, and increased the uncertain mixture of winners and errors which Kvitova purveyed.

The overall impression was of Li's greater mental strength - greater than her opponent's and greater than she herself has sometimes had in the past.

She put that down a little bit to liking the tournament. "For me it is a little bit special," she said.

"If it was like a normal tournament you have exciting and nervous. But this tournament for me is like exciting and nervous, and relax and focus."