Li Na's win carries her closer to another first
China's Li Na returns a shot to Italy's Sara Errani during a WTA Championships tennis match in Istanbul on October 23, 2013
The first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam attacked with flair and ambition with her flat hitting and dominated many periods of the match, though she needed to fight and focus harder to regain control after her level dropped early in the second set.
"I have a very good physio," Li had said before the match, explaining her enduringly good court coverage, and it seemed that Errani, who had considered withdrawing with an injury, must have had good treatment too.
She appeared with spectacular blue taping from the back of her ankles to the knees on both legs, but was still able to run, fight, and make it difficult for an opponent she had never beaten.
It means that if Li can on Thursday overcome Jelena Jankovic, the former world number one from Serbia, she will almost certainly make the last four.
However Li began with a struggle. She only hung on to her opening service game after three deuces, with the good returning and consistent ground-stroking of Errani applying steady pressure.
But the Italian generated few big shots and the Chinese player was given chances to dominate the rallies, to which she responded by trying to finish them quickly.
It brought errors, but Li's flat striking and varied placements also threatened to do damage. She succeeded in that in the sixth game, when she forced the first break of serve.
It took five attempts to convert the chances though, as Errani ran, defended, and sometimes counter-attacked, to contain Li's risk-taking aggression.
Eventually the breakthrough came with the help of an Errani double fault, though perhaps some credit was due to Li for this, for the threat she constantly exerted on her opponent's second delivery.
There was still plenty of work to do though, as Errani battled with even more gristle and tenacity and earned herself a break back point. Li saved that with a well-placed first serve down the middle, squeezed through to 5-2, and closed out the set with less difficulty two games later.
It was nevertheless a particularly creditable fight by Errani, who had indicated that there was doubt about her continuing after finishing her match against Victoria Azarenka the night before with a pronounced limp, apparently from problems with her calves.
"I will try and I will see. Maybe going good, maybe bad," she said. It was mostly good, but not quite good enough to derail Li, even though she had her moments in the second set.
Errani took advantage of some Li errors to break for 3-1, and then withstood a heavy ground stroke battering as the Chines player fought back with four games in a row to reach match point at 5-3.
The match then became a helter-skelter of chances earned and lost, with Errani breaking back twice to take it into a tie-breaker, in which she led 3-1.
But a double fault by the Italian tilted the psychological balance suddenly, triggering Li to another surge of well-directed hitting which carried her 6-3.
Even though Errani was diligently able to save two more match points, it became mere bravery in the face of strong odds, as a Li return of serve forced an Errani error and wrapped up a sixth win in six against her.
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