The 2014 Australian Open is about to reach its thrilling conclusion. It’s been an epic event, filled with upsets and soaring temperatures, which is deserving of a great ending.
On the women’s side, Li Na will be looking for her second ever Grand Slam victory over first-time major finalist Dominika Cibulkova.
In the men’s championship, Rafael Nadal is going for his 14th Grand Slam victory and seeking to become the first ever male to win each major twice in the Open Era. He’ll be up against Stanislas Wawrinka, who battled his way through a brutal schedule to reach the first major final of his career.
Let’s take a look at where you can catch all the action, highlight how each participant made it this far and predict the victors.
When: Saturday, Jan. 25 (women’s), Sunday, Jan. 26 (men’s)
Start Time: 7:30 p.m. (local time), 3:30 a.m. ET
Where: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia
Live Stream: WatchESPN
|Sat, Jan. 25||Pre-Final Entertainment||7 p.m. local time, 3 a.m. ET||ESPN|
|Sat, Jan. 25||Women’s Singles Final||7:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 a.m. ET||ESPN|
|Sun, Jan. 26||Pre-Final Entertainment||7 p.m. local time, 3 a.m. ET||ESPN|
|Sun, Jan. 26||Men’s Singles Final||7:30 p.m. local time, 3:30 a.m. ET||ESPN|
How They Got Here
|Women's Tournament||Li Na (4)||Dominika Cibulkova (20)|
|1st Round||Def. A. Konjuh; 6-2, 6-0||Def. F. Schiavone; 6-3, 6-4|
|2nd Round||Def. B. Bencic; 6-0, 7-6 (5)||Def. S. Voegele; 6-0, 6-1|
|3rd Round||Def. L. Safarova (26); 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3||Def. C. Suarez Navarro (16); 6-1, 6-0|
|4th Round||Def. E. Makarova (22); 6-2, 6-0||Def. M. Sharapova (3); 3-6, 6-4, 6-1|
|Quarterfinal||Def. F. Pennetta (28); 6-2, 6-2||Def. S. Halep (11); 6-3, 6-0|
|Semifinal||Def. E. Bouchard (30); 6-2, 6-4||Def. A. Radwanska (5); 6-1, 6-2|
|Men's Tournament||Rafael Nadal (1)||Stanislas Wawrinka (8)|
|1st Round||Def. B. Tomic; 6-4, Retired||Def. A. Golubev; 6-4, 4-1, Retired|
|2nd Round||Def. T. Kokkinakis; 6-2, 6-4, 6-2||Def. A. Falla; 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4|
|3rd Round||Def. G. Monfils (25); 6-1, 6-2, 6-3||Def. Vasek Pospisil (28); Walkover|
|4th Round||Def. K. Nishikori (16); 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 6-5||Def. T. Robredo (17); 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5|
|Quarterfinal||Def. G. Dimitrov (22); 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (9-7), 6-2||Def. N. Djokovic (1); 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7|
|Semifinal||Def. R. Federer (6); 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3||Def. T. Berdych (7); 6-3, 6-7 (1-7), 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4)|
Preview and Prediction
Women’s Final: Li Na (4) vs. Dominika Cibulkova (20)
This is a great matchup between two solid players, although Li is the heavy favorite to emerge victorious at the Happy Slam. The Chinese star is competing in her third final in Melbourne and looking to finally break through with a win.
The 31-year-old came so close in 2011 against Kim Clijsters, capturing the first set before faltering, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. According to the Aussie Open official Twitter feed, Li chalked that loss up to inexperience:
"First time I came to the final I was so inexperienced...right now a final is special" Li Na #ausopen— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2014
Li holds the head-to-head advantage against her Slovak opponent, coming out with a “W” in all four of their prior meetings, although none of those were in a major tournament according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Looking ahead to the Australian Open women's final: Li Na is 4-0 career vs Dominika Cibulkova (this will be their 1st Grand Slam meeting)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 23, 2014
Li has to continue playing at the level she has been at all tournament long to finally become a champion Down Under. She’s been crushing winners, dominating break points and finishing at the net with authority—all things that her opponent will struggle to deal with if the veteran is at her best.
Who will win?
Cibulkova hasn’t been a slouch herself, but she had a generous schedule and took advantage against worn out opponents on her path to the finals. None was more evident against Agnieszka Radwanska in the semis, as she had just come off a grueling upset of defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.
The diminutive 5’3” challenger has had a good run, but Li is refreshed and hungry for this title. Barring a miraculous performance or a lucky break due to injury, Cibulkova is going to go home as the runner-up.
Prediction: Li wins—6-3, 7-5.
Men’s Final: Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (8)
Not many expected Wawrinka to make it this far, with a likely showdown of Novak Djokovic and Nadal expected in the finals of the year’s first Grand Slam.
Who will win?
However, Wawrinka flipped the script and made a run for the ages, ousting Nole in the quarterfinals after a five-hour-plus, five-set battle that ultimately ended with the Swiss star advancing to the semifinals. He finished off Tomas Berdych, who was coming off an upset of his own against David Ferrer, to earn this rare trip to the championship.
The 28-year-old was stunned he’s made it this far, but admitted he’s playing the top tennis of his career at this juncture, as per the Associated Press (via ESPN):
I don't know what to say. I'm speechless. I didn't expect to make a final in a Grand Slam -- tonight it's happening… I take the confidence from my level in general. I know that I'm playing my best tennis.
He’s going to need to play even better to oust Nadal, an opponent that has dominated him—and that’s putting it lightly—since they first met back in 2007.
The Spanish superstar has won all 13 of their prior matchups and has yet to lose a set to Wawrinka. They first met in the third round of this event eight years ago and most recently faced off in the 2013 Barclays ATP World Tour finals, with the story remaining the same every time.
Rafa is simply the superior player, having shown that he’s still the best with a straight-set whooping of Roger Federer in the semifinals. It was the “King of Clay’s” 23rd victory in 33 matches against the Swiss legend.
Don’t be surprised when Rafa makes short work of Wawrinka, as the 27-year-old is a lock to wrap up his 14th Grand Slam title on Sunday.
Prediction: Nadal wins—6-4, 7-5, 6-3.