Li Na downs promising Swiss youngster to reach third round of Australian Open
Fourth seed Li Na was forced to dig deep against teenager Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open on Wednesday before blasting past the promising Swiss qualifier in straight sets.
With the temperature hitting 38 degrees Celsius before the pair even stepped on court at 11am, Li booked a third-round berth with a 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) victory in 80 minutes.
While the first set was a breeze, the second was a serious workout for the Chinese star who has made the final at Melbourne Park twice before, including last year when she lost to Victoria Azarenka.
“It was a little bit warm out there,” said Li. “I am pretty happy. At least I won the match and am still in the tournament.”
Li, 31, is one of the oldest women in the draw and she had already handed out a lesson to the youngest player during the first round when she beat Ana Konjuh, 16.
Bencic, the second youngest by a matter of months, received similar treatment in the first set from a player almost double her age, on another day of furnace-like conditions on Rod Laver Arena.
The experienced Li, with her right knee taped, was taken to deuce in her opening service game as she set about finding her range before holding for 1-0.
Li was soon looking good and she blasted a forehand down the line to break, and then comfortably held as she raced to a 3-0 lead with Bencic struggling to stay in touch.
The Swiss, who beat 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm in the opening round, appeared overawed by the 2011 French Open champion and a crosscourt Li forehand handed her another break in the fourth.
Li’s placement was inch-perfect and there was little Bencic could do to stop the Chinese star wrapping up the set to love in just 22 minutes. The teenager had managed just one winner in six games.
But Bencic, who has been dubbed the new Martina Hingis and is occasionally coached by the Swiss great’s mother, Melanie Molitor, finally got off the mark on her service game in the second set.
It drew huge cheers from the crowd and brought a big smile from the 16-year-old, who rose in confidence as she broke Li to be 2-1 ahead.
Li immediately broke back but the plucky Swiss showed why she won the Wimbledon and French Open junior titles last year and was named the ITF junior world champion in 2013.
She broke Li again and should have held her next serve, but a forehand into the net saw the set locked at 4-4.
It went with serve to a tense tiebreak with Li drawing on her experience to survive and set up a third-round clash against either 26th seeded Lucie Safarova or another qualifier in Czech Lucie Hradecka.