SPORTS

Li roars back to defeat Safarova, will play Kvitova in women's Rogers Cup final

08/12/2012 09:50 EDT | Updated 10/12/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Petra Kvitova has been a winner all over the world — except for in North America.

The 22-year-old Czech hopes to change that when she faces Li Na in the final of the US$2.17 women's Rogers Cup on Monday night.

Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, dominated the final two sets of a rain-interrupted semifinal to defeat seventh-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday at Uniprix Stadium.

Li was one game from defeat before she fought back for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over 16th-seeded Lucie Safarova.

Both finalists are vying for a first Rogers Cup title.

Kvitova, the fifth seed, has won in Europe, Asia and Australia, but has yet to take a WTA title on North America soil. She said it may have to do with her asthma.

"I have trouble to breathe," she said. "This week it wasn"t too bad. So maybe I"m lucky. But I think it"s great to know that I can play here."

It has rained every day of the tournament, and though it"s humid, temperatures are mild compared to the sultry summers in much of the eastern United States. But Kvitova"s condition is only a problem on this side of the Atlantic. She carries an inhaler to control the problem.

"Actually, it"s only in America, unfortunately, because here it"s more humid than Europe or Australia, where it"s very hot but not that humid," she added. "The humidity is the main problem for me."

The lefthander was in top form this week as she marched to her first final of the year, where she has a chance to claim a first victory over the year after winning six times in 2011.

Now she faces 10th-seeded Li, who has beaten her in two of their three previous meetings, including this year in Sydney, Australia.

"I like her as a person, she"s really funny," Kvitova said of Li. "We played each other I think three times already and I"m losing, so I have to win to have a 2-2 (record) and have revenge.

"I know that she"s playing great tennis here, and she"s trying playing aggressively."

While Li's match was held in warm sunshine, evening play was delayed 45 minutes by a downpour just as the second set ended.

Kvitova broke service to open the final set and didn"t let up in a well-played set that featured some long baseline rallies.

Wozniacki, a former world No. 1 now ranked eighth, arrived from a quarter-final at the London Olympics also seeking her first tournament win of the season after claiming six in each of the previous two years.

"Obviously you always want to win tournaments, but I think a semifinal performance in a tournament like this is not bad," said Wozniacki. "You just need to take a lot of positives from it, you know, as long as you"re healthy and you have chances every week."

She admitted to a little fatigue from playing two full matches the day before, but said Kvitova just made better shots and earned the win.

Li's win was more dramatic.

Safarova led 5-1 in the final set but then fell apart as Li won an error-filled match. The Czech admitted she thought the match was won and she only needed to let Li continue to make mistakes, but the Chinese veteran had other plans.

"There was nothing on my mind, you couldn"t think too much on the court," said Li, the 2011 French Open champion. "I just told myself to play point by point, play the ball back in the court and see how it"s going.

"This is tennis. You put the ball back in the court, and over the net. It looks easy, but sometimes I couldn"t do it."

The 30-year-old Li has a six-match winning streak against Safarova dating to 2009 and is 6-1 in her career against the 25-year-old.

"Closing a match is always a little bit of a nervous moment," said Safarova. "I was thinking that she made a lot of mistakes in the games before, and I just didn"t put enough pressure and she used that situation to turn it over.

"Then she started serving well and playing better and it just slipped away."

There was little for the crowd to cheer in a match with few long exchanges and many unforced errors. The lefthanded Safarova hit some sweet forehands down the line in the first set, but Li got her first serve going in the second to tie the match.

Safarova looked to have the match locked up in the third, but then lost the range on her serve and her groundstrokes and watched Li win six games in a row.

"That"s tennis — until the last point, it"s not finished," said Safarova. "I should have gone for it more, taken more risks, and tried to go for winners, not wait for her mistakes. That"s why she"s a top-10 player. She goes for it in every situation."

Sections of the centre-court grandstands were nearly empty for both semifinals, a sign the event lacks the buzz of previous years going head-to-head with the London Olympics.

Li was coming off consecutive wins over top opponents in Agnieszka Radwanska and Sara Errani.

Safarova had lost in the first round of her last two events — Wimbledon and the Olympics. She had already surpassed her best Rogers Cup performance by reaching the semifinal. The world No. 23 is now expected to crack the top 20.

The tournament began and ended a day later than usual due to accommodate the London Olympics.

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