Road to final (with ranking of opponent in brackets):-
First Round – Ana Konjuh (WC)
Second Round – Belinda Bencic (Qualifier)
Third Round – Lucie Safarova (26)
Fourth Round – Ekaterina Makarova (22)
Quarterfinal – Flavia Pennetta (29)
Semifinal – Eugenie Bouchard (31)
Li’s first two matches were against the youngest players in the tournament and she rolled in the first 3 sets but Bencic gave her a battle in the second set forcing a tiebreak that Li escaped. Then, against Safarova, Li was not on her game while her opponent was and came inches away from leaving Melbourne. With that reprieve, Li rallied to win the tiebreak then the deciding set to advance. She admitted in an interview that her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, would not be pleased. With new life, Li managed to win her next three matches with only one set being contested and that was the second set against Bouchard. In her last match, she consistently was winning points with her cross court backhand.
Li is the streakiest player in the WTA today and when she is hitting her shots with accuracy, very few players can play with her but if her shots are off, she is subject to lose to anyone. We know that Li can hit her backhand very well but one thing that is not talked about much is her movement around the court. Her coach has helped her develop a way to end points quicker. Besides her shots being off, she can also get nervous at crunch time if the set and/or match is close. If Li, who has made the finals three out of the last four years, can continue to hit accurate shots, hold off nerves, use Slam finals experience and reduce unforced errors, she will win her first Australian Open title and 2nd career Slam title overall.
Ace Prediction: Li 6-3,7-6(7)
Road to Final (with ranking of opponent in brackets)
First round – Francesca Schiavone (42)
Second round – Stefanie Voegele (46)
Third Round – Carla Suarez-Navarro (16)
Fourth Round – Maria Sharapova (3)
Quarterfinals – Simona Halep (11)
Semifinals – Agnieska Radwanska (5)
Tennis players start their careers earlier than most other professional athletes. When you read the biographies of tennis players, most of them started from a very early age, some as early as 4 years old. Many of them are the children of teaching pros, or their parents were members of a tennis club, or they saw older siblings playing and wanted to be a part of the excitement.
Not many tennis players get to attain their dreams. Tennis fans have become so used to an abundance of riches from certain players that sometimes we forget how hard it is to succeed at the top level of tennis.
One of these players is Dominika Cibulkova. Domi, as she is known by many tennis fans hails from the tiny country of Slovakia. This is the country where another player who is more well known to tennis fans originated, Daniela Hantuchova. Domi, known for being height challenged, was also known for being one of the few players to enter the top 20 and not win a title. She lost her first 3 finals and found it difficult to compete with the rest of the Tour’s bigger women.
Come 2011 that changed however when Domi won her first WTA title at the Premier event in Moscow, the Kremlin Cup beating Kaia Kanepi in 3 tough sets. It was a hard fought battle and her joy at winning that first title after a string of tough losses rejuvenated a career that was on its way down.
At the Grand Slams Domi did not fare very well, reaching only the semifinals once before this at the French Open in 2011 when she beat Maria Sharapova 0 and 2 in the quarter finals. Since that time success has been limited for Domi at the Grand Slam.
In 2012 she took on coach Zeljko Krajan and not only did he add some power to her game he taught her to become more aggressive from the baseline. Her serve, which was a weakness in her game, due to her height suffered against the great returners. She continued to improve under Zeljko, but after awhile, like many other of Krajan’s charges, she parted ways with him. That year she beat Marion Bartoli to win a Premier level event in the California desert, Carlsbad.
Her renaissance however, really started last year in Sydney when after being blitzed by Aga Radwanska in the final love and love, she would go on to beat Radwanska in a tough 3 setter at the Bank of the West Classic in California.
This year she is playing with a new racquet and a new outlook. Domi came into the Australian Open as the No. 20 seed in the bottom half of the draw. Her road to the final is as comprehensive as it got. She lost 5 games through the first 3 rounds, struggled a bit against Sharapova in the round of 16 and completely blitzed her last 2 opponents by dropping only 8 games. One of these players was a top 5 player, Radwanska.
Tonight Domi faces Li Na, a woman against whom she holds an 0 and 4 lifetime record with their last meeting coming in Toronto last year. However, I think we should throw these results out the window. The Domi that is playing now is a far cry from the Domi of 2013.
Many pro athletes yearn to play on the biggest stages of their careers. A hockey player dreams of lifting the Stanley Cup. Basketball players the NBA Championships. Tennis players dream of winning a Grand Slam. We all saw what happens when a tennis player makes the final of a Grand Slam when Marion Bartoli, herself ranked outside the top 10 made the finals of Wimbledon for the second time in her career and ended up hoisting the trophy from the perceived favourite, Sabine Lisicki. It is a bit coincidental that Domi’s best friend on tour is a player who took advantage of her opportunities herself and won a Grand Slam.
I don’t think that Domi will be overawed by the moment. She has been playing this tournament as if she belongs. Her serve has been clicking this tournament and apart from a small measure of doubt after being up 5-0 in the second set against Sharapova, she has taken the court and played with consistent aggression and belief.
Her opponent has been here before in the finals of the Australian Open. She is the crowd favourite as this is as close to a home Slam as she will have.
I think however that Domi will take this in 3 sets.
Spin’s Prediction: 6-3, 4-6, 7-5