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Li beats Sharapova to reach final

MELBOURNE -- Li Na used the heat to her advantage and worked No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova around Rod Laver Arena in a 6-2, 6-2 win on Thursday to advance to her second Australian Open final in three years.

Sharapova was the hot favorite after conceding only nine games in her first five matches, a record at the Australian Open since it expanded to a 128-player draw in 1988.

But the semifinal started badly for the 25-year-old Russian, serving double-faults to lose the first two points and conceding a break in the first game.

Li had the backing of the crowd on Rod Laver Arena, where dozens of red and white Chinese flags swirled in a light breeze, and where the temperature topped 34 Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) during the first of the semifinals.

Li was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost here to Kim Clijsters in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way.

She will now play top-ranked Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion, who beat 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens.

Azarenka achieved a 6-1, 6-4 win over Stephens after a medical timeout for rib and knee injuries. The No. 1-ranked player wasted five match points in the game immediately before leaving the court for medical attention, then returned to break Stephens' serve to end the match.

“Well, I almost did the choke of the year,” Azarenka told an on-court interviewer immediately after the match. “At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn't close it out.”

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 Taiwanese Hsieh falls in Australian Open doubles 
Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after victory in his men's singles semifinal against Spain's David Ferrer on Day 11 of the Australian Open on Thursday. (AFP)

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