By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - China's tennis trailblazer Li Na roared back from the brink of defeat to upset world number one Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday and set up an Australian Open final against Kim Clijsters.
A semi-finalist here last year, Li saved a match point in the second set before edging the top seed 3-6 7-5 6-3 to give China and Asia a first grand slam singles finalist.
Clijsters, the 2004 runner-up at Melbourne Park, hammered second seed Vera Zvonareva for the second grand slam in a row to reach her second Australian Open final with a comprehensive 6-3 6-3 victory on a sun-bathed Rod Laver Arena.
Li made her customary poor start to the first match, losing her opening service game and forfeiting the opening set after racking up 17 unforced errors.
Looking nervous and uptight, later blaming a sleepless night on her husband's snoring, Li barely made an impression on the match at all until Wozniacki grabbed a match point at 5-4 in the second set.
"I made a lot of mistakes in the first set and also the beginning of the second set," Li told reporters. "After I saved the match point, I was thinking like, 'Okay now a chance'.
"It's tough play against her. She's running... I was thinking some shots I had hit winners but every time she just got back to the ball."
Wozniacki continued to run down Li's deep, flat and powerful groundstrokes but started making mistakes of her own, including an ill-timed double fault that ceded the second set to Li.
The third set was a baseline battle punctuated with long rallies but the tide had now swung in Li's favor and she sealed victory when Wozniacki misdirected a forehand after two-and-a-half hours.
"I had a lot of chances, I just didn't take them. If you don't take your chances, you lose the match," said the 20-year-old Wozniacki, who had been under pressure to justify her ranking with a grand slam triumph.
"That's what happened today. One ball could make a big difference. I could have been sitting here as the winner. But could have, would have, if I would have done something different."
For only the second time in the tournament after her 6-0 6-0 drubbing of former world number one Dinara Safina in the first round, Clijsters brought her 'A game' to court and it was simply too much for Zvonareva.
The three-times U.S. Open champion whipped through the opening set in 33 minutes before sealing a quickfire victory with a drop volley to reach her ninth grand slam final.
"I was able to just stay very aggressive throughout it all and keep my unforced errors down and put a lot of pressure on her," said Clijsters, who will now replace Zvonareva as world number two.
"I'm very happy with the way I ended this today... It's a nice feeling knowing there's only one more match to play."
Zvonareva, who also lost the Wimbledon final last year, admitted she had been well-beaten.
"I tried to hang in there," the 26-year-old. "I knew what I had to do, but I think she was executing her shots really well. The quality my shots weren't maybe good enough to hurt her today."
Li beat Clijsters in the final of the Sydney International warm-up event two weeks ago after recovering from a 5-0 first set deficit.
China's first WTA tournament winner, first grand slam quarter-finalist and first top 10 player, the 28-year-old was delighted to rack up yet another breakthrough.
"This is good experience for my whole life, because many players, they play a long time, but they never get to the final of a grand slam," she said. "Today I got there..."
(Editing by John O'Brien)