January 27, 2011 -- Roger Federer came back from two sets down six times in his career. His semifinal match against Novak Djokovic Thursday wasn't one of them. Caroline Wozniacki served for the match in the second set, but Na Li stood her ground and made her way into her first major final -- the first Chinese woman to do so.
With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer now out of the men's singles draw, the door opens for perhaps a new face to hoist the Norman Brooks Cup on Sunday. Andy Murray and David Ferrer have never won a grand slam. Which one will play in the final will be decided tonight. In 2007, though, Djokovic defeated Federer in the semifinals in Melbourne and won the title, his only grand slam.
Not many men have captured a slam title because of the dominance from Nadal and Federer. They have won 23 of the last 25 major finals. Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, who won the 2009 U. S. Open, are the two who broke through.
Federer could have made a better match of it against Djokovic, if he'd played a better second set. But at 5/3 and four points away, he fumbled.
"I was right away down. Love 15, I think," Federer began. "I was always playing catch up until I had something of a chance."
Federer took a chance with a drop shot on breakpoint.
"He moved so well side to side that you have to try to get him forward, too, at times," Federer said.
But on that shot, Novak's keen anticipation gave him a split second advantage. He zoomed to the net and flicked a crosscourt winner. The loss of this game turned the match around.
"I should definitely not have given that game away," Federer admitted. "It was crucial for the remainder of the match, clearly."
"Federer has lost his way and doesn't seem interested in solving this guy called Djokovic," Mats Wilander said, as he called the match on EuroSport.
Federer went down a break early in the third, but caught up in the eighth game. His comeback slipped away, as Djokovic broke again. Federer couldn't get past Djokovic's persistence, his ability to change the direction of the ball, and his superb return of serve.
"Novak played well when he had to," Federer said succinctly. "He deserved to win at the end."
The three-hour, three set match was an intense experience. At times they hit 25- and 27-shot rallies where the velocity of the ball awed fans. Federer, though, seemed a bit annoyed with Djokovic at times and his incessant ball bouncing before his service. "That's twenty-two," he pointed out to the chair umpire on one changeover.
His ire didn't make for better tactics. Approaching the net was out of the question, too, because of Novak's returns. However, Federer might have been able to convince himself to bear down and extend rallies, past the 30-shot barrier. In other words, he could have been more patient.
"I had to take my chances," Djokovic told Jim Courier, immediately following his 76 (3) 76 64 victory. "I'm happy to overcome some mistakes and play my best tennis."
Caroline Wozniacki probably wishes she could have overcome her propensity to just keep the ball in play against Na Li. Especially in the second set. Wozniacki was one point from the final and a chance to quell the critics. However, she didn't and couldn't get past a resurging Li, who saved three match points.
"From then on, she was just better at the most important points," Wozniacki said.
The pressure from Li came to a head when Wozniacki double faulted to lose the second set 7/5.
For the first set, until Wozniacki held match point, Li looked lost. Her unforced errors mounted as she went for too much, too soon. Wozniacki's poise and consistency -- not going for too much or too little -- confounded Li. Wozniacki's play controlled the match: be the last one to hit a ball over the net.
Obviously, that's the name of the game. However, Li had to first bust apart the Wozniacki wall before she could assert her game. As soon as Li stepped it up and controlled the rallies, Wozniacki's game broke down as she attempted to become more aggressive. Her natural tendencies weren't enough. She isn't technically prepared for shorter, more aggressive, points. For one thing, she stood too far behind the baseline. She opened angles for Li who was prepared to take advantage of them.
"After I saved match point I was thinking, 'okay now a chance,'" Li said. "It's tough play against her. She runs and I was feeling some shots I could win. But every time she just [came] back. This is tough for me and for all the players."
Na Li will play Kim Clijsters on Saturday. Clijsters defeated Vera Zvonareva in the other semifinal 63 63.