Thursday, 23 January 2014

Women's Semis 1 - Li Na v Eugenie Bouchard

This Australian Open has seen the old and the new among the women's draw, and the first semi final certainly displays that with thirty something Li Na battling teenager Eugenie Bouchard.
As the highest ranked player of the final four, and last years runner up, Li Na enters the semi final a clear favourite, and her form suggests that it is warranted, with crushing victories in her fourth round and quarter final matches.
Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian 30th seed, played a composed match to defeat the Serena slayer Ana Ivanovic in her quarter final to suggest she won't be as overawed coming into the semi final as expected.
The Li Na serve is probably the key to whether Eugenie can cause an upset or not.  If reliable, the serve sets up an all court game with powerful forehands and other groundstrokes which at this point probably more than match the Canadian.  Li Na also moves particularly well on the court, allowing more time to prepare for each shot.
Eugenie was first to serve.  Three clean winners and a forcing backhand from Li Na and the break of serve showed that one of the players had settled well.  Eugenie was on the board with a passing forehand but Li Na replied with a forehand down the line and later with a forehand volley winning to lead 2-0.
Eugenie's baptism of fire was complete before she sat down when she double faulted triggering an assault of winners and brutal groundstrokes from Li Na brought the score to 3-0.
Li Na cruised through another service game, signing off with an ace, then proceeded to terrorise the Canadian with a combination of off forehands and backhands and other good stuff to force Eugenie into error. 5-0.
Serving for the set, Li Na double faulted, and then a rare forehand winner brought Eugenie to life, the next unforced mistake by Li Na creating three break points.
Double faulting on the second of the break points, Li Na donated Eugenie her first game.
The 4th seed's charitable work continued into the next Bouchard service game with two shots long and two netted more than cancelling out the volley winner. It was now 5-2 to Li Na.
The Li Na scorecard now featured a number of errors, something which was not a part of the early going, and perhaps this was what Eugenie needed to work her way into the match.
In the next game, despite some occasional poor stroke-making along the way, Li Na managed to find the required shots to manufacture a service hold and win the set 6-2
At the start of set two Li Na was playing like a human being and not like the super force in action at the beginning of the match, but even so she managed to create a break point.  That one was saved so Bouchard immediately had to fight off another off the back of another Li Na winner.  A breathtaking down the line winner from Eugenie silenced that and she followed with an equally outstanding backhand winner.  The tennis was suddenly a tier or two better - winner countered by ace.  Ultimately Eugenie held the opening game of the set and the match could legitimately be said to be on.
A double fault followed by a deep return forcing the error had 15-30 on the Li Na serve.  Two shots long off the forehand wing - one by each player - left Eugenie with one of two break points that she had gathered.  A forehand winner dispensed with that one and then we had a few deuce moments, one of them reached after an incomprehensible forehand mishit from Li Na.
A forehand put away at the net brought up break point again for Eugenie and she converted unexpectedly when Li Na found the net with a loose groundstroke.  2-0 to the Canadian.
All that hard work went down the drain with poor shot making and a double fault the very next service game.  2-1 to Bouchard but back on service, not that service was proving a very comfortable commodity to either player just at present.
Li Na held serve after needing a lot of convincing, and then Eugenie had more troubles on her serve, mostly arriving with the return of better tennis from Li Na, who  after achieving another break now led 3-2.
Eugenie with a couple of great shots forced herself into the next Li Na game and with a simple overhead at the net converted a break to level at 3-3.
Each time Bouchard took steps forward in the match, she undid her work, and again on serve she let herself down, Li Na winning to lead 4-3
Careful not to lose the advantage, Li Na served smartly, not going for too much on first serves and not trying to find lines all the time.  She easily held serve to lead 5-3.
Serving to stay in the tournament, Eugenie was at 15-30 and struggling.  Li Na hit two shots long to help out.  Another one wide gave the game to Canada and after a commercial break Li Na would be serving for a place in the final.

First point sent Eugenie all over Melbourne and by the time she was back the ball was too far out of reach.  The second point was won with a great serve.  Then 30-15 following one too long from Li Na.  And a double fault had us wondering.
Match point arrived with an errant Bouchard shot, and a backhand cross court winner put Li Na into the final for the third time and second straight year 6-2 6-4

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