By Mario Sarmento
It will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the 2014 Sony Open Tennis tournament final.
After top seed Serena Williams took care of business earlier in the day against Maria Sharapova, No. 2 Li Na showed championship poise in rallying from 3-1 down in the final set to beat No. 10 seed Dominika Cibulkova 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 and advance to her first women’s singles final.
“I’m so happy, it’s my first time,” she said afterwards. It was a match where returning serve was better than serving, as there were a combined 14 breaks, seven by each player, including 10 in the first 15 games.
Li was 7-10 in break points for the match, and most importantly, she was a perfect 2-2 in the final set. After trailing 3-1 and losing the second set in eight games, momentum seemed to be on Cibulkova’s side. But Li fought off a break point, and induced a Cibulkova backhand into the net after serving an ace to close to 3-2 down. She broke Cibulkova in the next game to even the match, then took control by winning on serve in the next game.
After breaking Cibulkova yet again in the eighth game, Li fought off yet another break point before winning the last two to hold serve and win the match.
Cibulkova rolled through the second set, at one point winning 10 of 14 games bridging the end of the first set through the fourth game of the third to take the lead. She was at her deadliest in the return game, breaking Li 4-5 times in the second set alone, and she was 7-14 for the match.
Li took the first set in part by going 3-4 in break point chances, and after holding serve to go up 6-5, she was able to break Cibulkova once more to win the final game.
Li, who won the Australian Open earlier this year, has a WTA-leading 21 match wins so far this year. For Cibulkova, it was the end of a brilliant run that saw her upset No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals and eliminate Venus Williams in the fourth round.