MELBOURNE - Venus Williams was one service game away from holding up her end of a projected sisters semifinal at the Australian Open, until she stumbled in a flurry of errors and lost to No. 16 Li Na this morning.
Li reached the Grand Slam semifinals for the first time with the 2-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 quarterfinal win, giving China two players into the last four of a tennis major for the first time.
"Best day of my whole life," Li said, grinning widely.
Zheng Jie will play a semifinal against former No. 1-ranked Justine Henin in the other half of the draw.
"Good for both players. Also good for China's tennis," Li said. "Also good for the fans. Thank you."
The experts expected Venus to beat Li and set up a semifinal with her sister and defending champion Serena Williams, who played her quarterfinal against No. 7 Victoria Azerenko, of Belarus, in the following match on Rod Laver Arena. But the experts were wrong, as top-ranked Serena won, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
And when the seven-time major winner was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second, it seemed a formality. But Li rallied, breaking Williams in that game and eventually forcing and then dominating a tiebreaker against the former No. 1-ranked American.
Williams held to open the third set, which then featured six consecutive service breaks until Li held to even it at 4-4. She broke Williams and then had her own chance to serve for the match, but didn't win a point in that game. Williams returned the favor, losing four straight points on her serve to give Li a second chance to serve it out at 6-5.
Li, who had never gone beyond the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam, needed three match points, eventually converting it with consecutive forehand winners down the line.
"I just played my tennis. I know I lose the first set but thanks for the coach, never give up," she said. "He was teaching me a lot. I know sometimes talk too much but nice guy."