No. 4 Li Na booked her place in the final of the 2014 Australian Open after a straight-set win, 6-2, 6-4, over No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard.
It's the second year in a row that the 31-year-old has made it all the way to the final in Melbourne and third time in the last four years, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Li Na reaches the Australian Open final for the 3rd time in 4 years— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 23, 2014
Li put on a bravura performance on Thursday. Everything she did, she did well.
She had 35 winners to Bouchard's 10 and won 60 percent of her break points (6-of-10). Li also feasted on her opponent's second serve. According to the Australian Oepn's website, the difference between Bouchard's first and second serve was 31 KPH. That kind of disparity is unsustainable and must have been like hitting off a tee for Li.
It helps to explain why Bouchard won a scant five of her 28 points on second serve.
The most surprising stat of the match was that the Canadian only had 14 unforced errors, nine fewer than Li. It was likely a testament to how well Li was working the angles. She didn't even give Bouchard a chance to get a racket on the ball during the rally.
The final point of the match demonstrated exactly the difference between the two players, per the Australian Open:
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated thought that this match mirrored the Grigor Dimitrov/Rafael Nadal match in the men's draw. You can see the next wave of stars coming along, but they're not yet at the level where they can challenge the best:
Similar vibe between Bouchard/Li Na and Dimitrov/Nadal. Veteran trumps youth but we have glimpsed the future…— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 23, 2014
After the match, Li commented that Bouchard could become the best in the world, per Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
Li Na makes her third #AusOpen final, ending impressive run of Genie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4. "Maybe she will be best in world," says Li of Genie.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 23, 2014
Li set the tone in the first set. She absolutely suffocated Bouchard. The 19-year-old Canadian didn't have any time to come up for air, as she was getting bludgeoned with Li's backhand and couldn't build any sort of momentum.
Bouchard was getting run all around the baseline, leaving her unable to get on the offensive.
She didn't help herself by getting down 5-0 in the set, and in those five games, she won a total of three points, per Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times:
Li Na has won 20 of 23 pts so far, including all 12 on Bouchard's serve, for 5-0 lead. Genie not playing great, but Li is amazing. #AusOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 23, 2014
As Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline noted, it doesn't matter what your mental makeup is, you're going to feel uneasy about your chances after struggling so much:
I don't care how poised you are. If you're Genie Bouchard, who has won three points so far, you're feeling that pit in your stomach.— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) January 23, 2014
The second set was much more competitive, but the gulf in class was clear between the two players. Bouchard recovered well to grab the first two games, but she was powerless to stop the tidal wave that was Li.
The 2011 French Open champion broke in the third game to erase what was Bouchard's brief advantage. From there, it was academic.
Li will get the winner of the Dominika Cibulkova/Agnieszka Radwanska semifinal to come later in the day. It's a great opportunity for her to get that elusive first Australian Open title.
This won't be the last you'll hear of Bouchard. She's way ahead of schedule in terms of her career progression, and she will become a fixture of the later rounds down the line.