Saturday, 25 January 2014

Women's Final - Li Na v Dominika Cibulkova

I defy anyone to honestly say they predicted that the pair of women contesting the 2014 Women's Singles final would be 4th seed Li Na and 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Yes solid arguments have existed for the presence of China's number one as her form has been at a level second only to Serena Williams since the closing stages of last season.  Her form since nearly losing to Safarova this tournament has been scary at times.
The real surprise has been the Pride of Slovakia, Dominika, who has slayed the third seed Sharapova and the fifth seed Radwanska amongst her six victims this event.
Whilst I would like to see Domi give Li Na a close contest in the final, and that may well occur despite the odds,  there are a number of factors weighing heavily in favour of a first win here for Li Na.
This is Li Na's third Australian Open final, and she had chances to win both the previous ones.  She has tasted success before at this level - 2011 Roland Garros.  She has never lost to Domi in four clashes.  She has potentially more weapons at her disposal than her opponent, and this is the main reason for me selecting Li Na to defeat Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets.

Li Na won the toss and put Domi to the line to serve first.  First point a forehand long from Domi.  Then another before Li Na's attempted lob went long.  A backhand return too big made it 4 errors  for the first four points, and another from the fourth seed gave us 40-30.  A backhand from Domi found the net and then a double fault gave break point to Li Na.  A backhand wide brought it back to deuce and still no point had been decided by a winner.  Until a backhand down the line from Li Na and break point number two.  A second double fault handed the first game to Li Na 1-0.
A return long countered by a Li Na forehand long 15-15. A Li Na backhand found the bottom of the net and a backhand return went out. 30-30.  A backhand down the line winner from Li Na created game point which was confirmed with another errant return.  2-0.
Domi forehand wide and a Li Na forehand long and this match had yet to be ignited.  Li Na attempted to ignite it with a forehand return winner, but another error from her stalled the effort.  Break point after another shot went long from the Slovak racquet.  She saved it with her first winner - a forehand pass.  A backhand wide from Li Na was followed by a backhand winner and deuce again.  Domi hit a backhand wide and she faced break point again, but Li Na let her off the hook with a weak forehand going wide.  A return into the net times two put Domi on the board but it still was Li Na leading 2-1 with a break and looking the player most likely.  The only worry for Li Na was her propensity to hit random shocking shots, just as she did to let Bouchard back into the semi final contest.
Better hitting from Domi forced Li Na to hit into the net, going for too much.  The next return went long and Li Na produced a backhand winner down the line to lead 30-15.  A backhand crawled over the net and won a lucky point for Li Na and she won the game when Domi hit long with her final shot.  3-1
Li Na called for the referee to have the court measured after she hit a return and two forehands and a backhand long to award the game to Domi and move the game score to 3-2 Li Na.
Rally of the match by a street saw Domi seal it with a backhand into open court.  Domi into the net and Li Na long then a double fault led to 15-40.  Another double and the rally of the night was a distant memory.  The break back had occurred and it was 3-3.
A Li Na shot into the net and two forehands from Domi, one forcing an error, the other a clean winner, shot her out to 40-0.  A double fault tempered the advance but a service winner pushed her in front for the first time 4-3.
Li Na was becoming error prone now, maybe due to nerves, but surely also due to Domi having settled into a rhythm.
A backhand winner down the line calmed the 4th seed's nerves somewhat and exchanged errors made it 30-15.  A big serve forced an impotent return which was dealt with well by Li Na and a glorious backhand which fitted nicely in the corner won the game and squared the match 4-4.
Surviving a break point, Domi evened the lucky net cords up at a crucial stage, after Li Na threatened seriously with a clutch of winners.  Again what ultimately thwarted the fourth seed was her failure to stop the flood of unforced errors. 5-4 Domi
A Li Na forehand winner followed by errors to both players - two each - and finalised with an ace summed up the next game which tied the set at 5-5.
Great rally ended with a Li Na shot long, but she redeemed herself by smashing a forehand winner, and Domi was charitable with a double fault.  A backhand cross court winner to end another fine rally gave Li Na two break points and only one was required when Domi found the net that Roger Federer did so often the night before.
6-5 Li Na serving for the set.
Off forehand winner for 15-0 Li Na, then a wide miss for 15-15. An a even wider miss - Box Hill I think - was corrected with a backhand winner 30-30.  Break point arrived with a tentative try at the net which only ended in the structure.  Saved with a top forehand winner down the line.  Deuce. Set point after a Domi shot failed to finish inside the court.  Saved with a Li Na effort finishing the same way.  Off forehand winner from Domi brought up another break point and it worked for the Slovak player once Li Na had decided that the net was a decent place to finish the next point.  6-6 tie break.

Li Na took the first point off the Domi serve and the second with a down the line winner.  Domi drew back to 1-2 with a passing shot of her own.  A wonderful rally ended with Li Na taking a forehand out of the air to lead 3-1.  Trouble now for the 20th seed as she pushed one wide to trail 1-4.  Great serving from Li Na as a big serve had no answer rom Domi and they changed ends 5-1.
Great defence from Domi and a wonderful finishing forehand still had her trailing 3-5.  Finding the net had Domi finding herself down 3 set points.
Li Na won the set in a tie break 7-6 seven points to three after Dominika Cibulkova netted the final stroke of the set.

Li Na was well placed now to go on and win the Aus Open but she would need to beware of a wounded Slovak who defeated Sharapova after dropping the first set.

Li served first and her first error gave Domi the first point. A Domi forehand forced Li Na into error and a Li Na groundstroke did the same thing to Domi.  40-30 came with Li Na hitting a forehand away after running to the net and the game was hers with Domi hitting too big. 1-0 Li Na.
After a too enthusiastic Li Na went too long and gave a 30-0 lead to Domi, it was 30-30 with a double fault and netted Slovak shot.  An off forehand winner from Li Na brought up break point which was converted with a forehand pushed wide by Domi.
2-0 Li Na.
Good serving and a volley put away had Li Na quickly up 30-0.  An ace emphasised her confidence, but Domi's forehand pass showed that she was not going away just yet.  Another forehand down the line by Domi was answered by a winner from a similar class by Li Na to win the game and consolidate the break.  3-0 Li Na.
Two forehands long by Li Na were mitigated by two backhand winners, and a break point was generated.  The return was too good and a second break ensued.  4-0 Li Na and the finish line visible.
A double fault and one into the net from Li Na.  0-30.  Domi was tiring it seemed as she also put one into the confounded net.  She also couldn't handle a Li Na groundstroke and serve and 40-30 was the sum result.  A simple forehand put away off a rally that was always under her control sealed the game and a 5-0 lead for Li Na.  The trophy was being inscribed.

0-15 after a backhand down the line from Li Na.  Another clean winner from Li Na had 0-30.  15-30 after another net cord crawled over, this time for Domi.  A backhand long set up two match points for Li Na.  The first saved with Li Na hitting long.  The last shot of the match was a long shot by Dominika Cibulkova and the 2014 Australian Open champion was, and is Li Na from China. 7-6 6-0.

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