Li Na beats Agnieszka Radwanska to reach China Open 2012 semifinals

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Li Na beat Agnieszka Radwanska for the third consecutive time on hard courts when the pair met in the quarterfinals of the China Open today. With the 6-4 6-2 victory, Li secured the final place at the WTA championships in Istanbul, as well as a date with Maria Sharapova in the last four.

Although her head-to-head record against Li stood at 3-2 before the summer, Radwanska has clearly had a hard time dealing with the Chinese player of late. Their clashes in Montreal and Cincinnati in August were easy straight sets wins for Li, and although the score was closer today, the Pole still had no answer to Li’s solid, powerful play.

After the first six games of the match went with serve, Li broke Radwanksa to lead 4-3, and held on to take the opening set 6-4. Radwanska had four break point opportunities on the Li serve, but failed to capitalise on any. Roared on by the raucous home crowd, Li was playing much more consistently than in her previous matches, and kept the crafty and creative Radwanska at bay with deep, heavy hitting.

There was little to separate the two players at the beginning of the second set. With the score even at two games apiece, however, Li broke Radwanska and didn’t look back for the rest of the match. She was dominant on serve, losing only three points in her remaining service games and denying her younger opponent a single break point opportunity. To the delight of the Beijing crowd, China’s top player sealed the win 6-4, 6-2 in exactly one and a half hours.

In the night match, Marion Bartoli took on the surprise quarter-finalist Carla Suarez Navarro for the right to face Victoria Azarenka in the semi-finals. Bartoli had been another contender chasing the final slot at the Istanbul championships, but with Li’s victory earlier can now only hope to be selected as first alternate.

The Frenchwoman had never faced Navarro before, who has been compared to Justine Henin because of her single-handed backhand. The young Spaniard had upset both Petra Kvitova and Jelena Jankovic in order to progress to the last eight, and was hopeful of continuing her giant-killing run.

Bartoli had other ideas, however. She swept through the first six games, winning a superb 89% of first serve points and allowing her opponent a total of only ten points in the entire “bagel” set.

Unperturbed, Navarro upped her game considerably in the second. Bartoli has a habit of losing focus and consistency during matches, and Navarro took full advantage, breaking serve three times and using her own serve more effectively on her way to taking the second set 6-2.

Neither play took command of the decider, which saw a total of five breaks of serve. Bartoli was struggling to win points on her second serve, but the world number ten is more experienced in close matches, a point that made all the difference today. After one and three quarter hours of play, Bartoli took the match 6-0, 2-6, 6-4.

Although beating Azarenka at the semi-final stage of a major tournament will be a tall order, Bartoli has a good chance of pulling off an upset. She is one of only four players to beat the Belarusian in 2012, with a straight sets in Miami in March, and will be hopeful that her frenetic, quirky style of play is enough to topple the world number one again.

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