Australian Open: Fourth seed Li Na taking nothing for granted
The concept of third-time lucky does not hold much comfort for Li Na.
Last Updated: 25/01/14 8:40am
The Chinese player was a beaten finalist in 2011 and 2013 at the Australian Open and will attempt to win her second grand slam title on Saturday when she takes on Dominika Cibulkova.
"In China, six and eight is lucky," said Li. "If I lose, I'll just continue until six or eight."
Cibulkova has certainly been the surprise package of the tournament. The 24-year-old Slovakian has never been ranked in the top 10 and had made only one grand slam semi-final prior to her run here.
Fourth seed Li, the 2011 French Open winner and in her fourth final overall, is the favourite for the first time in a Melbourne final but she does not think that counts for much.
She said: "I think I'm ready. Same as her. I think both of us should be ready. After six matches, everyone has more confidence to prepare for the final."
What should count for more is the changes Li made to her game during the off season. Under the guidance of coach Carlos Rodriguez, who was Justine Henin's long-time mentor, Li has altered her grip on her serve and backhand, and it appears to be paying dividends.
She said: "You're on the tour so many years, everybody knows exactly how you play on the court. If I didn't change, I could keep in the top 10 or top 20, but I cannot be the best in the world.
"I really wanted to push myself to change a little bit, to see. It's very tough because you think if you change maybe you lose the old thing. But I trust myself, I trust Carlos. I believe the change is helpful for me."
Li and Rodriguez began working together in 2012 and, although they have not yet won a grand slam together, Li has become a much more consistent and reliable player.
She has also expanded her game by coming to the net more, another Rodriguez innovation.
The 31-year-old said: "The first time Carlos told me, 'You should come in more on the volley', I was like, 'What's this guy talking about?' In the beginning I was thinking, 'I will stay baseline for maybe 100 years', never try to come to the net.
"But after he said it would be a good way for me, I tried. I was feeling good. Especially at Wimbledon last year, I was feeling, if I lose the match, at least I tried. I found a new thing for myself."
Both finalists have had one close match, with Li having to save a match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round while Cibulkova was involved in a three-setter against Maria Sharapova in the last 16.
But both won their semi-finals comfortably, with Li ending the run of teenager Eugenie Bouchard and Cibulkova thrashing fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
The Slovakian is unusual in the modern game in only being 5ft 3in tall, and her success has been hailed as a positive message for the sport.
She said: "It's not about how tall are you. Even if you are tall, it doesn't mean that you are 100 per cent going to make it. You have to really want something and just believe in it. There is nothing more important than this."
What Cibulkova lacks in height, she certainly makes up for in energy on the court and aggression in her play.
"I've had it since I was a little kid," she said. "When I play my best tennis, that's where you can see the power and the fight.
"You have to have something extra if you want to be one of the best tennis players and you are not the tallest. This is what is my extra."
The pair have met four times before, with Li winning each one, although all have been relatively close.
"She's been in the finals of grand slams many times," said Cibulkova. "She's already won a grand slam, so she knows how it is.
"I'm playing the final, so that's something beautiful. It's like a dream. I will just go out there and try to do my best."