China's Li faces teen star in Grand Slam bid
Li Na pictured during her Australian Open match against Flavia Pennetta in Melbourne on January 21, 2014 - by William West
The fourth seed demolished the Italian 6-2, 6-2 to set up an enticing clash with the Canadian hotshot, 12 years her junior, who upset former world number one Ana Ivanovic in three sets.
Chinese trailblazer Li, 31, is a two-time Melbourne finalist but has never lifted the trophy, losing to Kim Clijsters in 2011 and last year to Victoria Azarenka after dramatically twice rolling her ankle and briefly blacking out.
With revenge against Azarenka in prospect, Li powered past Pennetta and appears to be hitting peak form at the right time.
"I think everyone wants to win a Grand Slam. But first you have to be in the semis, right?" said Li, when asked about her chances with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both already out.
"But I was really happy today. At least tomorrow I have a day off. I can talk with (coach) Carlos (Rodriguez), can talk with the team and prepare for the next round."
The next match is an unknown quantity for Li with Bouchard coming from nowhere to make her first ever Grand Slam semi-final, mirroring last year's run to the last four by another teenager, America's Sloane Stephens.
Bouchard rallied from a set down to beat resurgent 2008 French Open champion Ivanovic and reinforce her status as one of the game's most exciting prospects.
The 19-year-old Canadian, the WTA's newcomer of the year in 2013, showed composure and grit to upset the 14th-ranked Serb 5-7, 7-5, 6-2.
It was all the more remarkable in that she is making her tournament debut, with the victory forecast to push her into the world's top 20 when the new rankings are released next week.
"I feel like she was playing really well and I had to keep fighting and playing aggressive," Bouchard said. "I feel like I stepped it up in the second and third sets."
The shock win ended the unbeaten streak of Ivanovic, who came into the tournament on the back of victory at the Auckland International and shocked Williams in the third round.
Ivanovic, who took a medical timeout in the second set with a left leg problem, was aiming to make her first Grand Slam semi-final since 2008, when she won the French Open and made the Australian Open final.
She tipped Bouchard for a big future.
"She's a young girl. I think she has a very bright future in front of her," said the 26-year-old, who herself found fame at an early age and admits she struggled with the pressure.
"She's a very aggressive player. It's sometimes very hard to read her game. There is no real patterns like with other players you have. She's a great mover," the Serb added.
Li will have her work cut out against Bouchard but, as experienced 28th seed Pennetta found, the Chinese is hitting top form.
The Italian, who is exactly one day older than Li, said her fellow veteran was continuously improving and would be hard to beat in Thursday's semi-final.
"She's number four in the world, she's a Grand Slam champion. That's what we're talking about," she said.
"She just improved her game a lot. She's really consistent and today she was much better than me on the court."