In one of the wildest Grand Slams in recent memory, it is only fitting that the final rounds of the 2014 Australian Open continue to surprise.
While fans anxiously await the semifinal battle between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, three other competitors punched their tickets to the tournament final on Day 11 between the men's and women's draws.
Of course, only one of the three matches featured a win by the higher-seeded player. Still, there was some exciting play in each contest, so take a look at a recap of the action from Thursday, Jan. 23.
No. 4 Li Na def. No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard, 6-4, 6-2
Eugenie Bouchard was the lowest-ranked player in the semifinals, the lowest in the quarterfinals, and the third-lowest in Round 4. No one expected her to make it this long, so the fact that she went down quickly is not an indictment on her.
In fact, Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated thinks this match could be a positive for the 19-year-old competitor's future:
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
However, it is still important to note that Li Na remains one of the most impressive players of this entire tournament. In the semifinal win, she finished with 35 winners compared to only 10 for Bouchard.
While she has not faced the toughest competition, she has only lost a single set in six matches and seems to be only getting better.
Li has long been among the top female stars, but she only has one career Grand Slam title, which was a 2011 win at Roland Garros. The good news is she has at least been close:
Li Na reaches the Australian Open final for the 3rd time in 4 years— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 23, 2014
If she can win one more match and earn an Australian Open title, it will put her in the conversation for the best player in the world.
No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova def. No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1, 6-2
In another tournament, it would be surprising to see Agnieszka Radwanska go down to an inferior opponent this quickly. However, fans in Melbourne have come to expect this type of surprise.
The 5'3" Dominika Cibulkova did little in the win that one would consider spectacular, but she simply came through on almost every important point. She held Radwanska to just one break in nine attempts while also earning six herself.
After the match, the Slovakian explained that she would not let size prevent a strong run at the tournament. According to Ravi Ubha of CNN.com, she said, "It's not about how tall you are. It's just you have to really believe in it. There is nothing more important than this."
This confidence led to a great defensive effort against the usually solid Radwanska. The Polish star could only manage 50 percent of her first-serve points and only 13 percent on her second serve. That made the difference in the match, giving Cibulkova an opportunity for this celebration:
The battle between Cibulkova and Li in the finals will be a good one despite very contrasting styles. Based on what we have seen so far at this tournament, anything is possible.
No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka def. No. 7 Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(3), 7-6(4)
Although the match ended in four sets, you will not see too many closer battles than what was on display between Stanislas Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych.
Not only did this contest go to three tiebreaks, but the Australian Open Twitter account also points out exactly how close things were on Thursday:
The two men had almost identical statistics in serves, winners, errors and more. Wawrinka earned one break in the first set, but the rest of the match was a back-and-forth battle that was only decided by the tiebreaks.
After the match, Berdych explained that it is almost luck at that point:
Berdych: "The tiebreak is always a lottery and he was the lucky one today." #ausopen— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) January 23, 2014
Still, Wawrinka did enough to reach the first Grand Slam final of his career. Interestingly, this comes on the heels of his first semifinals appearance at the U.S. Open.
No matter who wins in the other semifinal, the veteran will have his hands full in the final. Either way, Wawrinka can be proud of his effort to get to this point while knowing he can still win it all in Melbourne.
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