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June, 30, 2016

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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 
China's Li Na reacts after a point against Russia's Maria Sharapova during their women's singles semifinal at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Thursday, Jan. 24. (AFP)

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