China’s Li charges into Aus Open semis

Li Na powered into her second straight Australian Open semi-final 6-2, 6-4 against Germany’s Andrea Petkovic Tuesday to crank up Chinese hopes of a first Grand Slam singles title.

A day after compatriot Peng Shuai fell by the wayside, Li survived a blistering start by Petkovic in both sets to wrap it up in 80 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.

A major singles title would be considered a huge boost to tennis in China, where the sport has been growing exponentially after it hosted a series of top tournaments and produced its first competitive players.

“If I’m going to win the tournament, I still have two steps I need to take,” Li said afterwards. “It’s easier said than done.”

Li will play either world number one Caroline Wozniacki or French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in Thursday’s semi-finals.

The world number 11 is unbeaten in 2011 after beating Kim Clijsters to win this month’s Sydney International, and she showed great touch and calmness to defuse the livewire Petkovic.

The 23-year-old Petkovic had shown no signs of nerves at the start as she broke Li and held her own serve to open a 2-0 lead.

But the Chinese number one, who made six unforced errors in the first two games, found her range and soon began to dominate the rallies with her powerful and flat ground strokes.

She pressured Petkovic’s serve and was particularly savage on the German’s weaker second serve, as she won six games in a row to take the first set in 36 minutes.

The German regrouped at the start of the second, again breaking Li’s serve and holding her own to go to 2-0 up, but then dished up a horrible service game to give the break straight back.

Games went with serve until 5-4 when Petkovic made four wild unforced errors on her forehand to hand the quarter-final to Li.

“There were no easy games, the score was 6-2, 6-4 but we still played a lot of tennis,” Li said. “She’s a good player but I was a little bit better today.”

Li said she was apprehensive heading into the match because she didn’t know anything about Petkovic’s game.

“It was tough, I only practiced one time with her last year so of course, at the beginning of the match I was a little bit nervous.”

Li has broken a host of records for Chinese tennis — the first player to win a tour event, the first to break into the top 10 and the first to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final.

She must now be considered a genuine contender to secure China’s maiden Grand Slam singles title, after Zheng Jie and Yan Zi teamed to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon women’s doubles in 2006.

But Li realised she had a fight on her hands against either Wozniacki, who won six titles last year, or Schiavone, who showed immense heart in her 4hr 44min quarter-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova, the longest women’s Grand Slam match.

“It doesn’t matter which one is the opponent, I know both are tough players,” Li said. “So it is a tough match in the next round, another challenge. But right now I will just totally rest.”

She added: “I played really well in Sydney and I hope I can do better here this year. I don’t want to lose in the semis again.”