Sharapova beats Li Na to set up dream China Open final against Azarenka

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In the first women’s semi-final at the China Open in Beijing, world number two Maria Sharapova took on home favourite Li Na for a place in the final of the Premier Mandatory event. The pair’s last match was a tense three-setter in the final of the Italian Open in May, and the boisterous local fans were hoping for a similarly entertaining contest today. However, it turned out to be a one woman show as Sharapova proved to be too good for the Chinese player today, prevailing in straight sets 6-4 6-0.

Sharapova struggled with her serve at the beginning of the match, and Li capitalised to move into a 3-1 lead. However, the Russian steadied herself to break straight back, and there was little to separate the two heavy-hitters as the score drew even at 4-4. Li was taking the ball early and going for winners when she had the opportunity, while Sharapova refused to be intimidated and unleashed groundstrokes with her trademark aggression.

In the ninth game of the first set, Sharapova saved a crucial break point with a well-placed slice serve. In the next game, she kept the pressure on the Chinese in some long rallies, and eventually took the set with a powerful forehand winner down the line.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, there was to be no way back for Li. Sharapova utterly dominated the second set, winning all three of her break point chances and shutting out the former French Open champion in baseline exchanges. Incredibly, Li won only nine points in the entire 6-0 set.

In spite of the disappointing result today, Li has had a successful week in Beijing, securing the final spot in the WTA championships in Istanbul at the end of the month. Since uniting with Justine Henin’s former coach, Carlos Rodriguez, her results have improved, and she will be hopeful of ending the year on a high.

Sharapova goes through to face Victoria Azarenka in the final tomorrow, a dream match-up of the top two seeds and bitter rivals. The pair have clashed four times this year, with Azarenka taking the three hard court matches and Sharapova earning victory on clay. Their most recent match was a brutal three-set affair in the US Open semi-finals, in which the Belarusian proved the steelier competitor.

With both players hitting their best form as the tournament reaches its climax, the showpiece match has the potential to be one of the best of the year. Although Azarenka has had an outstanding season, she hasn’t won a title since March, while victory for Sharapova would boost her chances of snatching the number one ranking.

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