Thursday 16 January 2014

Li Na beats Safarova, Makarova awaits - Australian Open

Li Na and Lucie Safarova played to earn a spot in the fourth round of Australian Open. Li Na, Chinese No.1 and former Roland Garros champion, had not lost to Lucie Safarova since 2005, however, things looked trimmed early on. Safarova raced through the first set in just 27 minutes and did not face a break point winning the set 6-1. She was aided by 18 unforced errors from Li Na.

Li Na is an absolute treat to watch when she is on, however, it is as painful as it gets, to watch Li Na when she is off, and it was one of those off days.

Safarova seemed headed for a straight sets victory, and given Li's history of weak mental fortitude, it was just a matter of time. However, since joining forces with Carlos Rodriguez, there has been an immense improvement in terms of the mental strength.

Safarova, like Li Na, plays a high risk game and the second set was evident of that fact as she shanked 22 unforced errors to go down in a tight second set. Safarova served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, but as we know Li brings out her best with her back to the wall, she broke to bring the set back to serve. Safarova was not done yet, she earned her first and only match point with Li serving to force a tie-break. Safarova hit a backhand which went long, and it at that moment that Safarova had lost the match. Li ended up winning  the second set 7-6(2).

As the third set approached, Li had calmed down and cleaned her game as she hit just 6 unforced errors against 14 by Safarova and converted 2 of the 3 break point chances she created, winning the set 6-3. The final score being 1-6 7-6(2) 6-3 in Li's favour.

Australian Open is Li Na's favourite grand slam and she has made the semi-finals or better here in 3 of the last 4 years, and if she is to repeat the feat, she will definitely have to improve her performance. One thing that stood out today was champion's mentality in Li's win, she showed that she too can win when not playing her best, and that is what it is all about, winning and moving on.

Awaiting Li, for a spot in the quarter-finals will be Ekaterina Makarova. Makarova has made the quarter-finals here the last two years and has wins over Serena Williams and Venus Williams in the Australian Open.

Makraova defeated Niculescu 6-4 6-4 to move into the 4th round of Australian Open for the third straight year. Niculescu converted all 4 of the break points she created, however, Makarova went two steps ahead converting on 6 of the 9 opportunities. It was not a pretty match either, with Makarova overcoming 35 unforced errors to book a date with Li Na. Niculescu was also undone by the 34 errors she made against only 9 winners.

It will be interesting to see Makraova fighting against Li Na for a quarter-final spot. Li has won all 4 of the pair's encounters, however 3 of those 4 have gone to 3 sets. The last time they played was in the quarter-finals of U.S Open where Li won in 3 sets.

Li should be favoured to win the match, but Makarova has a history of upsets. Who do you think will win the contest?

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