|Li Na of China serves during her women's singles semifinal match against Maria Sharapova of Russia at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne Jan. 24, 2013. Li Na won 2-0. (Xinhua/Chen Xiaowei)|
MELBOURNE, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- The 2011 runner-up Li Na will meet defending champion Victoria Azarenka in her second Australian Open final after she swept second-seeded Russian Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 here on Thursday.
Belarussian Azarenka overcame American teenager Sloane Stephens in the other semifinal.
Li Na, China's top player, reached her first Grand Slam final at the Melbourne Park in 2011 but lost to Kim Clijsters of Belgium, just before she won Asia's first Grand Slam title in the French Open.
Sharapova, who only lost a historical tournament-low nine games in her previous five matches, struggled with her serve from the very beginning of the match. She double faulted twice in her first serve game, allowing Li to break her in the first game.
Li held to lead 2-0 and then broke again for 4-1 with a cross-court return. Sharapova fought her way to three break points in the sixth game and secured the chance when Li missed a return.
Li returned the favor in the following game to lead 5-2. The No.6 seed served for the set, racing to 40-0 and wrapped the first set up in 48 minutes.
Li took the first service break in the second set to remain on track with a 3-2 lead, grabbed a second at 5-2 and served out the match. Sharapova saved one match point but Li made an ace to take advantage again and didn't waste the second chance.
The straight-set victory improved Li's record against Sharapova to 5-8. The pair met three times in 2012 and the Russian won all of the clashes.
On the other hand, Azarenka broke Stephens in the first game and again in the fifth and seventh to wrap up the first set in 33 minutes. The 19-year-old Stephens saved five match points before the first-seeded Belarussian took the 6-1, 6-4 semifinal victory in one hour 41 minutes.
In men's singles event, defending champion Novak Djokovic is now only one victory from his hat-trick of Melbourne titles after reaching his third consecutive final.
The Serb thrashed fourth-seeded David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in one hour and 29 minutes and fired a warning to Andy Murray and Roger Federer who will play the other semifinal on Friday.
Djokovic, who could be the first player to win three consecutive Australian Open titles in the Open era, ran the Spaniard around the court then finished points with style and power to keep his unbeaten Grand Slam record against Ferrer.
The Serb won more than twice as many points as Ferrer, stringing together 12 in a row during the second set to underline the one-way nature of the contest. He rode a confidence wave through the third set, making spectacular winners look regulation, as he gave up just 11 points for the set.
Djokovic extended his winning streak at the Melbourne Park to 20 and will await the winner between 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer and US Open winner Murray.