Li long overdue for Aussie title
Cibulkova ready for big stage
And it's not as though she has never proved she can win the big one. In case you forgot, she won the 2011 French Open. Even if Serena Williams, two-time defending champ Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova had not been knocked out before the semis, I liked Li, who just plays a very smart, very consistent game.
Although Cibulkova does not strike me as the type to gag under the lights Saturday night, see Sabine Lisicki (against Marion Bartoli in last year's Wimbledon final) as someone you did not think would choke after a splendid tournament of upsets (including Williams) but ended up doing just that.
Cibulkova also has never beaten Li in four previous meetings with the Slovak managing to take only one set off of her (and that was on clay).
Li referred to a Chinese saying that goes something like, in her words: "If you have a tough time, you pass that, it means you be so lucky." She was talking about her third-round match against Lucie Safarova in which she was down a match point. How many times do athletes or teams come back from near-elimination to do great things?
The gods also owe Li after last year, when she sprained her ankle in the final against Azarenka not once, but twice, the second time tripping and falling on her head, actually blacking out temporarily. All that and she managed to survive for three sets, losing 6-3 in the third.
Li has had an easy draw here, granted, but she has done everything she has been asked (except for that third-round glitch), beating everyone but Safarova in straight sets. Against Eugenie Bouchard in the semis, Li dictated almost every point and kept Bouchard on the run with her deep, accurate groundies -- and she will keep Cibulkova honest as well.
At 31, if Li wins her first Australian Open title, she will be only the second 30-plus-year-old after Margaret Court in 1973 to do so. And all signs point to it.
Imagine being Dominika Cibulkova right now. Not only are you preparing for your first Grand Slam final, but you're representing something bigger -- an entire nation. Cibulkova is the first female-born Slovakian to reach a Grand Slam final.
Add to that, her Aussie Open opponent in the final, Li Na, is a Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth kind of cult figure in China. She is a former French Open champion who has been on the cover of Time magazine and a staple in Forbes' highest-grossing female athletes. So, yes, Li has experience and exposure on her side.
Needless to say, every indication points to the No. 4 Li being a prohibitive favorite. And that might be true, except for this: Cibulkova has been the better, more focused player throughout the tourney.
In the one match Cibulkova did face resistance, she found a way to send No. 3 Maria Sharapova back to her other vocation as owner and founder of Sugarpova sooner than the Russian wanted to. But since then, well, let's just say Cibulkova won't be collecting any overtime.
First, in the quarterfinals, Cibulkova, who is the 20th seed here, dished out a 6-3, 6-0 thumping to Simona Halep in exactly one hour. Then in her very next match, the Slovak slammed the fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in 1 hour, 10 minutes. Cibulkova has been on court for an average of 1 hour, 15 minutes the entire tournament -- and this against six opponents who have an average ranking of 21. Those are Serena-esque beatdowns.
Oh, and it just so happens that Cibulkova is looking to become the first player outside the top 10 since Serena seven years ago to win in Oz.
In the tennis business, as I am sure you know, Missy, we have a word for Cibulkova's run so far: impressive. It's not a sexy word, nor is it going to get her on the cover of Time. But impressive will buy you a Slam trophy, and, if I'm not mistaken, that is the only goal here.
Call me a dreamer, but I say Cibulkova in a tight three-setter.