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Li may be clear favourite, but don't sell Cibulkova short

Li Na will be hoping to make it third time lucky today when she plays Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the final of the Australian Open.

Li Na will be favourite to win the women's final this morning. Picture: Reuters
Li Na will be favourite to win the women's final this morning. Picture: Reuters

The Chinese lost out in the final in 2011 and again last year, when she fell twice, injured her ankle and eventually lost out to Victoria Azarenka. With 20th seed Cibulkova appearing in her first grand slam final - the first Slovak woman ever to reach this stage - Li Na would appear to have fate on her side.

"In China, six and eight is lucky," Li Na laughed yesterday, when asked if third time lucky meant anything to her. "I'm not sure if this is lucky, I try to find the lucky way."

It has been a heady eight months for former French Open champion Li, who was considering retirement before she reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, where the work she had been doing with coach Carlos Rodriguez began to click.

Today the 31-year-old has the experience and class to win her second grand slam. But if it does not happen, she plans to keep trying.

"If I lose, I just continue until six or eight," she said, continuing to riff on the lucky theme.

Li has beaten Cibulkova four times out of four but the 5ft 3in Slovak has been a revelation this fortnight, beating Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska on her way to a first final.

The 24-year-old has always been capable of beating the big names but doing so under pressure, at the back end of tournaments, has been beyond her until now.

A great mover around the court, with hard, flat groundstrokes, she is dangerous when on her game and she revealed that watching Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli win Wimbledon last summer had made a big impact on her.

"She was a big inspiration," Cibulkova said. "When she won Wimbledon . . . we are very close friends, so I knew she was working so hard for it and she deserved it so much. When she won it, I knew that everything is possible." Bartoli has been here this week, doing some media work, and the now retired champion immediately found Cibulkova after her win over Radwanska.

"Straight after my semi-final she came into the gym to me," the Slovak said. "She hugged me. We were both crying. She was so happy for me."

Cibulkova's height, or lack of it, has been the subject of much speculation here, with the question raised: has there ever been a shorter grand slam champion?

Well, there has. Rosie Casals won six grand slam doubles titles but, if Cibulkova beats Li today, she will be the shortest singles champion in the Open era.

It is a record she will not mind, if she wins the title, but she was at pains to point out that her lack of height had not held her back.

"It's not about how tall you are," she said. "Even if you are tall, it doesn't mean that you are 100% going to make it. You have to really want something and just believe in it."

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