MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—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.
Li had the backing of the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, where dozens of red and white Chinese flags swirled in a light breeze, and where the temperature topped 34 Celsius 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.
Stephens won 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, starting to swing hard when she was down a set and a break and keeping her composure when Williams, one of her childhood heroes, jarred her back and needed a medical timeout.
Stephen’s surprise win did instant wonders for her celebrity.
“I want John Legend to sing at my wedding!” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God. He tweeted me. What can I do?’”
Retired basketball star Shaquille O’Neal sent a message that read: “When u defeat a legend you become a legend.” The Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki wrote, “Wow. What a win for Sloane. Some amazing defence. She gets every ball back.”
While there were surprises in the composition of the women’s last four, the makeup of the men’s semifinals was as expected.
Djokovic had to get through a five-hour five-setter against No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round. Ferrer had trouble in his quarter-final against fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, who served for the match in the third and fourth sets before losing in five.
Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, hadn’t dropped serve in the tournament until the first set against 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday. He ended up with a struggle on his hands before advancing to his 10th consecutive Australian Open semifinal with a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 win in three hours, 34 minutes.