China’s Li Na beat Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to reach the semi-finals of the WTA Miami tournament, where she will face Dominika Cibulkova in a rematch of the Australian Open final.
Second-seeded Li posted a 7-5, 7-5 win over 11th-seeded Wozniacki, while Cibulkova saved three match points in a gritty three-set victory, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, over third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska on the hardcourts at Crandon Park.
The 10th-seeded Cibulkova will break into the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time on the strength of her victory.
“I knew before the match that this was the match I needed to win to become top 10,” Cibulkova said.
“So it was some more pressure, but I’m obviously very happy with the way I handled it today.”
Cibulkova, who is in the Miami semi-finals for the first time, is winless in six career meetings against Li.
Li beat Cibulkova in the Australian Open final, and also won the rematch in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells earlier this month.
“So many people think about this being a repeat of the final, but it’s not,” Li said.
“Because Australia is over. It is past already. Miami is Miami. I am just looking forward for tomorrow.”
The other semi-final had already been set, with world number one and defending champion Serena Williams due to take on fourth-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova.
American Williams defeated Sharapova in last year’s final to capture a sixth Miami title, sending Sharapova to her fifth loss in five finals.
Cibulkova, who swept past Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, had a bigger fight on her hands on Wednesday on a windy Stadium Court where service holds were at a premium.
Fourteen of the first 18 games of the contest were breaks of serve, with Radwanska finally fending off three break points to hold serve for a 5-4 lead in the second set.
The world number three from Poland had three chances to seal the match in the next game – most dramatically at 30-40 when her blistering service return was judged long only after a challenge by Cibulkova.
Cibulkova, determined not to go down without a fight, saved two more match points with forehand winners as she held to knot the set at 5-5.
Another exchange of breaks sent them to the tiebreaker, in which Radwanska seized a 5-2 lead, only for Cibulkova to win the next five points to force a third set.
Once again she had to save a string of break points before wrapping up the victory, her 20th match win of a season that has included a run to the WTA title in Acapulco.
“This win really means a lot to me,” Cibulkova said.
“It’s always tough to play Aga, but I knew I just had to stay aggressive.”
China’s Li won 63 per cent of her first serve points and 79 of 150 total points against Wozniacki in just over two hours.
Williams is a dominant 15-2 lifetime against Sharapova, including 14 consecutive wins dating back to 2004.