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Li, Cibulkova survive to make it to Australian Open women's final

Stan the Man: Stanislas Wawrinka celebrates a victory over No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych in their semifinal. No. 8 Wawrinka
beat No. 2 Novak Djokovic earlier in the tournament.

Getty Images

Stan the Man: Stanislas Wawrinka celebrates a victory over No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych in their semifinal. No. 8 Wawrinka beat No. 2 Novak Djokovic earlier in the tournament.

MELBOURNE, Australia — This will be Li Na's third time in the Australian Open final and her goal, she half-jokes, is not to fall down. For Dominika Cibulkova, the plan is to enjoy the moment she calls a beautiful dream coming true.

No. 4 seed Li, the 2011 French Open champion, is the favorite in Saturday's final. But the past two weeks have proven there is nothing predictable about this year's Australian Open.

After a tournament of upsets, the championship is marked by who's not in it: No. 1 Serena Williams, a winner of 17 majors; No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, the two-time defending champ; and No. 3 Maria Sharapova, the four-time Grand Slam winner beaten in the fourth round by the unheralded but highly energetic Cibulkova.

Being the underdog has suited No. 20 Cibulkova. The 24-year-old has won all but one of her matches in straight sets, including three in an hour or less.

The 5-foot-3 Slovakian has endeared herself to the Melbourne Park crowds with a ferocious fighting spirit on the court and heartfelt comments afterward.

"I still can't believe I'm playing finals. I can't believe this is happening," Cibulkova told the Rod Laver Arena crowd Thursday after another upset in the semifinals over No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2.

Later at a postmatch news conference, Cibulkova blinked back tears: "It will be the biggest match of my life. It's a big pressure. Still, I want to enjoy it on the court. I don't want to suffer on the court. It's something beautiful. It's like a dream."

Li, 31, knows what it's like to suffer during a Melbourne final.

Last year, she twisted her ankle and fell over twice before losing the final to Azarenka. On the second tumble she fell and hit the back of her head on the hardcourt, needing treatment by a tournament doctor who assessed her for a concussion.

"At least I'll try to not fall down this time," Li said Thursday after beating Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals. Li is 4-0 against Cibulkova in head-to-head matches.

"She has pretty fast legs on the court," Li said. "Yeah, we play pretty similar. So, tough match. Another challenge."

In China, Li said, there is a belief that tough times in the past means good luck ahead. So does Li feel lucky at the Open this year?

"Until now, yes," she said.

Wawrinka makes men's final

Stanislas Wawrinka backed up his upset of four-time champion Novak Djokovic by reaching his first Grand Slam final with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-1), 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-4) win over Czech Tomas Berdych.

Wawrinka ended a 14-match losing streak against No. 2 Djokovic with a five-set, four-hour win in the quarterfinals, then followed that with a dominating performance against Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist.

The match was close throughout: Wawrinka won 143 points, Berdych 142.

"I don't know what to say. I'm speechless," he said. "I didn't expect to make a final in a Grand Slam."

No. 8 seed Wawrinka meets the winner of today's semifinal between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 6 Roger Federer, the 33rd installment of their rivalry and the first at a Grand Slam since Nadal knocked Federer out of the Australian Open in 2012.

Whoever he plays, Wawrinka will be the underdog. He has never beaten Nadal in 12 meetings and has lost all but one of his 14 matches against his Swiss countryman, Federer.

Wawrinka said he received a text Wednesday from Federer saying he was happy there were two Swiss players in the semifinals of a major for the first time.

"I told him, 'For you it's normal, for me it's not normal,' " he joked.

Li, Cibulkova survive to make it to Australian Open women's final 01/23/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 12:25am]
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