BEIJING : Chinese star Li Na’s giant-killing run was brought shuddering to a halt by in-form Russian Dinara Safina in the Olympic Games semi-finals on Saturday.
Safina braved a partisan crowd to oust Li 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 and set up an all-Russian final with 2000 silver-medallist Elena Dementieva, who beat compatriot Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).
The results guarantee the dominant Russians their first women’s tennis gold after Yevgeny Kafelnikov’s Sydney 2000 triumph for the men.
“Although I lost today, I did my best. I believed in myself that I could have done it. Safina was just better,” said Li.
“I did have some chances, but I lost. I think I’m satisfied with the overall results. Maybe 20 per cent regret.”
Meanwhile, 2000 doubles champions Venus and Serena Williams came from behind against Ukraine’s Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko to win the only all-sister match in Olympic history 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
The 43rd-ranked Li rode a wave of home support to reach the last four, and thousands of fans packed Centre Court on Saturday.
With occasional shouts of “Russia!” drowned out by ear-splitting boos, French Open runner-up Safina got the early break but short-circuited with three double faults to level the first set at 3-3.
They exchanged breaks twice more before the sixth seed took control of the tie-break, racing to a 5-1 lead and snatching the first set point with a monster second serve.
More Safina double-faults handed Li the advantage in the second set, but the Russian kept up the pressure and finally broke back at 4-5 despite being rapped with a coaching warning.
Serving to stay in it, Li crumbled, netting to set up three match points and handing over a place in the final after a long rally.
Afterwards Safina hit out at a gruelling doubles and singles schedule which forced her to play three matches in less than 24 hours.
“I was a bit angry, so I just put everything on the tennis court and I was just trying to stay focused point by point,” she said.
“I knew that the crowd would be against me. But I also accepted it because for me doesn’t matter.
“I have my tennis coach and I don’t care who is sitting there and who’s clapping for who. I have my person next to me, so it doesn’t matter.”
Li had already made history as the first Chinese player to reach the last eight of an Olympic singles event.
She stunned Russian third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in round one and beat Ayumi Morita and Kaia Kanepi before pulling off an even greater upset, against Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, in the quarters.
Li had dropped just six games in her two previous matches with Safina, but the Russian came into the semi-final on a 14-match streak after winning her last two tournaments.
Chinese duo Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won women’s doubles gold four years ago, lifting home hopes here. – AFP/ms
Channel News Asia