Li Na to play Petra Kvitova in semifinals of WTA Championships on Saturday
Chinese star will become Asia's highest-ranked player if she beats the Czech
Jelena Jankovic will face world No. 1 Serena Williams in other last-four clash
Serbian goes through despite losing to already-eliminated Sara Errani
Li Na made tennis history Friday – and another entry in the record books is within her reach.
Having become the first Chinese player to reach the semifinals of the season-ending WTA Championships, she can become the first Asian to be ranked as high as third in the world if she beats Petra Kvitova on Saturday.
Li is currently fifth but has been as high as fourth – which has only been matched by Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm, back in the 1990s.
Victory over Kvitova will put her above Maria Sharapova, who is absent with a shoulder injury, and Agnieszka Radwanska – who lost all three matches this week.
She ensured there would be no repeat of her two previous disappointments in Istanbul as she defeated injury-hit world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka 6-2 6-1 to win her third successive match in the White Group.
“I know this is not the best way to win the match,” Li said, referring to the Belorussian’s fitness problems. “I saw her a little bit bothered with her back but she kept playing, so it was very tough for me mentally.
“If she were healthy she would have been a very tough opponent today. Unfortunately she wasn’t healthy. I have to enjoy this moment, but I hope the injury isn’t too bad and she can come back soon.”
Having beaten the 2011 runner-up, Li will next face that year’s victor after fourth seed Kvitova battled back to seal her last-four place with a 6-7 (3-7) 6-2 6-3 win over Angelique Kerber.
Kvitova finished second in the Red Group behind world No. 1 Serena Williams, who had a rest day after notching up three successive wins in her title defense.
The American will face former top-ranked Serbian Jelena Jankovic, whose closing defeat against the already-eliminated Sara Errani of Italy was meaningless following Li’s win.
Kvitova revealed that she is reaping the benefits of working with a new fitness coach since the U.S. Open, where she exited in the third round.
Since then she won the title in Tokyo and lost to Jankovic in the Beijing semis after beating Li in the previous round.
“We had like 14 days of hard work, so I think that it shows on the court,” the world No. 6 said of her post-New York training regime.
“I felt very confident on the court when I played in Tokyo, which was better, and I played two matches in one day, so I thought that it’s going to be tough but I did quite well.”
Azarenka, however, has struggled at the tail end of this season – which she began so brightly at the top of the rankings before beating Li in January’s Australian Open final to deny the Chinese player a second grand slam title.
“I served really hard, and I don’t know, just really locked my back,” the U.S. Open finalist said, and then explained why she didn’t retire hurt.
“I don’t have a tournament next week. The physio told me, ‘You’re really locked. There is no real structure damage, but you can’t fix it that quickly.
“I just wanted to try to do my best for the fans who came and watched our match, for respect for my opponent. It was just about trying to do the most you can out there.
“I think I can learn a lot from these little things to prevent maybe some of the injuries. Some things you cannot, but, you know, for the next year I will be ready, much better, I’m sure about it.”