MELBOURNE, Jan 23 (AFP): Chinese trailblazer Li Na marched towards a second Grand Slam title today by blasting past teenager Eugenie Bouchard and into the Australian Open final, where she will face Dominika Cibulkova.
The fourth seed steamrolled the rising Canadian 6-2, 6-4 to continue her stellar form at Melbourne Park where she has now reached three finals, as well as another semi-final and the fourth round over the past five years.
After an agonising defeat to Victoria Azarenka in last year�s decider on Rod Laver Arena, when she dramatically twice rolled her ankle and briefly blacked out, she is desperate to go one better.
�It is the third time, so pretty close to the trophy,� the 31-year-old said, after teaching the ultra-confident Bouchard, 19, a tennis lesson.
�At least I�ll try to not fall down this time, because last year in the final I think I played well but I only can say (I was) unlucky because I fell down twice.�
Li�s gutsy decision to get up and play on last year won her a new legion of fans in Australia, where she was already hugely popular due to her bubbly off-court persona.
Her French Open victory in 2011, the first singles Grand Slam title for an Asian player, helped popularise tennis in China. Li is also the figurehead for a push by women�s tennis into the region.
She will go into Saturday�s showdown a clear favourite against Cibulkova, the tournament�s surprise package, who will be making her Grand Slam final debut after crushing fifth seed Agniezska Radwanska 6-1, 6-2.
The 20th seed was in inspired form against the Pole, who said she was exhausted after ending Azarenka�s title defence in three sets on Wednesday.