Li ends Bouchard dream to make Australian Open final
China's Li Na pictured during her Australian Open match against Eugenie Bouchard in Melbourne on January 23, 2014 - by Mal Fairclough
The fourth seed ended the 19-year-old's inspiring run at Melbourne Park 6-2, 6-4 and will play either fifth seed Agniezska Radwanska or 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova in Saturday's final.
Li, 31, has consistently been a solid performer on Melbourne's plexicushion courts over the last five years, now reaching three finals, as well as another semi-final and the fourth round.
But Li has never taken the next step, beaten by Kim Clijsters in 2011 and agonisingly by Victoria Azarenka in the final last year, when she dramatically twice rolled her ankle and briefly blacked out.
She now has a golden opportunity to win her second Grand Slam after overcoming Bouchard, who has turned heads and won plaudits from the tennis community with her composure and all-court game here.
But in her first Grand Slam semi-final -- at only her fourth attempt -- Bouchard seemed overawed at the outset on Rod Laver Arena, losing her first three service games to love.
In a dispiriting start, it took the Canadian 13 attempts before she finally won a point on her own serve, as Li gave the 2013 newcomer a chastening welcome to the big stage.
Three sizzling Li winners gave Bouchard no chance in her opening service game, and the Chinese star stayed firmly in control to go 2-0 in front.
The experienced Chinese player rammed home the advantage with some unstoppable winners to break Bouchard again to love.
The rattled Bouchard was not competing in the rallies and she again lost her serve to love before a string of Li errors gifted her three break points in the sixth game.
A double fault from the Chinese number one allowed Bouchard to claw a game back at 5-1, and another Li mistake -- a backhand that dropped long -- gave her her very first point on her own serve.
The 19-year-old held serve for the first time as she started to find her feet, but she could not prevent Li serving out for the set in 28 minutes.
Bouchard's shots and serve began to find their mark as the crowd, including her "Genie's Army" cheering squad, got behind her, and she took a 1-0 lead in the second set.
Her game lifted a level as she got into the rallies and caused problems, and she came through a pivotal second game to go 2-0 up on a third break point.
But poor serving cost her dearly as Li broke back and then held, with a fierce crosscourt backhand securing the Chinese star her third game in a row.
Undeterred, Bouchard continued to battle and a straightforward volley into an open court got her back to 3-3 before yet another service break put Li on top at 4-3 and there was no way back.
Despite the loss, Bouchard is forecast to break into the world's top 20 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
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