MELBOURNE, Australia — Li Na used the heat to her advantage, working No. 2-seeded Maria Sharapova around Rod Laver Arena in a 6-2, 6-2 win today that put her in the Australian Open final for the second time in three years.
Li, 30, the No. 6 seed, was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters in Melbourne in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way.
Li improved to 13-1 this year. Her only loss came to No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who met No. 29 Sloane Stephens in the other semifinal in a match that was not over at press time.
Sharapova, 25, was the heavy favorite after conceding only nine games in her first five matches, a record at the Australian Open since it expanded to a 128-player field in 1988.
But the semifinal, played in temperatures that reached 93 degrees, started badly for the 25-year-old Russia. She served double faults to lose the first two points and conceding a break in the first game.
Li, who had the backing of the crowd that waved red and white Chinese flags, won the final four games of the second set, breaking twice, to take the match.
Murray rolls into semis, Federer grinds it out
They have been playing two different tournaments: Andy Murray in the sunshine and Roger Federer under the lights. But the schedules will be harmonized on Friday when they meet in the semifinals.
Federer, the No. 2 seed, had to work a lot harder and a lot longer Wednesday.
After Murray, the No. 3 seed, routed unseeded Jeremy Chardy, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, Federer had to play 3 hours, 34 minutes to oust Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic met No. 4 David Ferrer in the other semifinal today.
Federer broke the No. 7 seed in the fourth game of the deciding set. He then converted his fifth match point while serving after Tsonga saved four match points in the previous game.
"I love those four-set or five-set thrillers," Federer said.
Murray, 25, was broken while serving for the match (only the second time in the tournament he was broken). But he broke back immediately to win it.
"I can't be disappointed about being in the semis of a slam without dropping a set," Murray said. "That would be silly."
After years of chasing the game's major prizes without success, Murray beat Federer for the Olympic gold medal last year and soon after took the U.S. Open.
Murray leads 10-9 overall in matches with Federer but has not beat him in a Grand Slam event — even if the Olympic final was played at Wimbledon.
Federer said he doesn't think about his Grand Slam edge over Murray, which includes victories in the 2008 U.S. Open final, the 2010 Australia Open final and last year's Wimbledon final.
"He has beaten me so many times. He's beaten me more times than I've beaten him," Federer said. "But I'm happy you've given me the positive news. Good vibe. I'll try to remember that when I walk out, but it doesn't play a huge role for me."