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Nadal powers way into final

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A RUTHLESS Rafa Nadal crushed his great rival Roger Federer 7-6(4) 6-3 6-3 today to reach his third Australian Open final, in which he will play Stanislas Wawrinka.

On a breezy night at Rod Laver Arena, the 2009 champion extended his winning streak in grand slams to six over the Swiss master in an ominous display of precision and raw power.

Dominating Federer in the first set tiebreak, Nadal broke twice to charge through the second, and captured the decisive break in the third at 3-3 when his opponent blasted into the net-cord and the deflection sailed long.

Hitting winners from all corners, Nadal raised two match-points as Federer served to stay in the match and sealed it on the second after two hours and 24 minutes when the shell-shocked Swiss shanked a forehand long.

 

LUCKY

Meanwhile, the concept of third-time lucky does not hold much comfort for women's finalist Li Na.

The Chinese player was a beaten finalist in 2011 and 2013 at the Australian Open and will attempt to win her second grand slam title tomorrow when she takes on Dominika Cibulkova.

"In China, six and eight is lucky," said Li. "If I lose, I'll just continue until six or eight."

Cibulkova has certainly been the surprise package of the tournament.

The 24-year-old Slovakian has never been ranked in the top 10 and had made only one grand slam semi-final prior to her run here.

Fourth seed Li, the 2011 French Open winner and in her fourth final overall, is the favourite for the first time in a Melbourne final but she does not think that counts for much.

She said: "I think I'm ready. Same as her. I think both of us should be ready. After six matches, everyone has more confidence to prepare for the final."

What should count for more is the changes Li made to her game during the off season.

Under the guidance of coach Carlos Rodriguez, who was Justine Henin's long-time mentor, Li has altered her grip on her serve and backhand, and it appears to be paying dividends.

She said: "You're on the tour so many years, everybody knows exactly how you play on the court.

"If I didn't change, I could keep in the top 10 or top 20, but I cannot be the best in the world.

"I really wanted to push myself to change a little bit, to see. It's very tough because you think if you change maybe you lose the old thing. But I trust myself, I trust Carlos. I believe the change is helpful for me."

Li and Rodriguez began working together in 2012 and, although they have not yet won a grand slam together, Li has become a much more consistent and reliable player.

She has also expanded her game by coming to the net more, another Rodriguez innovation.

The 31-year-old said: "The first time Carlos told me, 'You should come in more on the volley', I was like, 'What's this guy talking about?' In the beginning I was thinking, 'I will stay baseline for maybe 100 years', never try to come to the net.

"But after he said it would be a good way for me, I tried. I was feeling good. Especially at Wimbledon last year, I was feeling, if I lose the match, at least I tried. I found a new thing for myself."


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