Li reaches second Australian Open final

ROBERT GRANT
Last updated 17:40 24/01/2013

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China's Li Na has stunned Russia's Maria Sharapova to reach her second Australian Open final.

Li ended the second seed's stunning run through the draw when she stopped her with a 6-2 6-2 win in 1 hour 33 minutes.

She meets the winner of the second semi-final between defending champion Victoria Azarenka and American teenager Sloane Stephens.

Sharapova made an ominous start with a double fault on the first point of her opening service game and was broken for the first time in the tournament when she netted a return.

Li held to lead 2-0 then broke again for 4-1 with a cross-court return.

Sharapova fought her way to three break points in the sixth game and finally secured the break when the Chinese player missed a return.

Li returned the favour in the following game to lead 5-2, meaning - in less than a set - the Russian had lost the same number of games as she had in her first four matches combined.

The Chinese sixth seed served for the set, racing to 40-0 then wrapped it up in 48 minutes.

Li took the first service break in the second set to remain on track with a 3-2 lead, grabbed a second at 5-2 and served out the match.

Sharapova saved one match point but her bid ended on the second.

Sharapova, the 2008 champion, had set a new Australian record in conceding just nine games in all her matches en route to the semi-finals.

The pair had met 12 times previously with Sharapova holding an 8-4 win-loss record.

The Russian won all three of their clashes in 2012.

Li was a huge hit as she made her way to the 2011 final, before losing to Belgian Kim Clijsters, and has lost none of her crowd appeal.

"Every time I come back here ... I don't know what it is - I always play well here," Li said.

She has credited her competitiveness at 30 to a rigorous off-season routine with coach Carlos Rodriguez, but said she was ready to be self-motivated now.

"He doesn't need to push me any more - I will push me," she said.

Li said she planned to simply enjoy her final against Azarenka or Stephens.

"Everyone will be nervous in a final but I will try to enjoy it for the tennis - there's nothing better," she said.

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- AAP

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