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Women's Australian Open final preview

By Chris Pike
25 January 2014 02:36PM EST

A NEW Australian Open women's champion will be crowned on Saturday night with Li Na looking to win on her third attempt and Dominika Cibulkova on her first.

China's world No. 4 Li Na will be playing in her third Australian Open final and trying to win the title for the first time to add to her previous Grand Slam triumph at the French Open in 2011.

Meanwhile, 24-year-old 20th-seed from the Slovak Republic Cibulkova is in the first Grand Slam final of her career as she makes history as the first player from her nation to make a major final.

Despite being just 24 years of age, Cibulkova is in her 31st Grand Slam appearance and now is playing the tennis of her life to make it to the final of the Australian Open and now she has one more hurdle to overcome to make it the dream fortnight of her life.

However, not only does Cibulkova need to win her first ever Grand Slam final for that to happen, but also beat her 31-year-old opponent for the very first time.

Li and Cibulkova have met previously four times on the WTA Tour but this will be their first clash at a Grand Slam and it just happens to be in the final with everything on the line.

The first meeting between the two was in 2008 when Li won 6-4, 6-3 in Antwerp, Belgium before the next meeting on clay in Madrid in 2010 where Li won in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

It was two years until the next clash with Li winning on clay in Rome 6-1, 7-6 (4) before last year in Toronto, the Chinese star won 7-6 (1), 6-2 in the quarter finals.

Li is now in her third Australian Open final of the last four years with the 31-year-old desperate to not become a three-time runner-up.

She lost the 2011 final to Kim Clijsters and then the 2013 final to Victoria Azarenka.

The only other Grand Slam final she has ever made came at Roland Garros in 2011 when she won the title by beating Italian Francesca Schiavone in the final.

Li has continued her outstanding love affair with playing in Melbourne this fortnight by beating Anna Konjuh, Belinda Bencic, Lucie Safarova, Ekaterina Makarova, Flavia Pennetta and Eugenie Bouchard to make it into the final again.

The only set she dropped came in the third round against left-handed Czech Safarova.

Li is now hoping it's third time lucky for her in the final at the Australian Open.

"I think is the third time and at least I try to not falling down this time, because last year in the final I think I play well but I only can say unlucky because falling down twice. At least I try enjoy and staying healthy," Li said.

"You know, of course was first time come to the final, I didn't have any experience. I just feel so exciting. So when the problem is come to me, how you say, I cannot face to because nobody can help me."

Cibulkova has had a remarkable fortnight with her playing the most dominant tennis of her career highlighted by her 6-3, 6-0 quarter-final win over 11th-seeded Romanian Simona Halep and then 6-1, 6-2 semi-final win over world No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska.

Before that, she had beaten Maria Sharapova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Stefanie Voegele and Francesca Schiavone with the only set she dropped coming up against three-time Grand Slam winner, and former world No. 1 Sharapova.

Cibulkova is playing in her seventh Australian Open and this is the first time she has ever gone further than the fourth round with the pocket rocket from the Slovak Republic only ever having made one semi-final previously (2009 French Open) and three quarter finals.

Cibulkova is obviously excited to be the first player to make a Grand Slam final from such a small nation like the Slovak Republic, but she knows that coming up against the experience of Li Na from one of the world's super powers China is now her biggest ever challenge.

"I'm the first woman tennis player playing in finals. We are like five or six million, and they are all like cheering for me. Yeah, it's big," Cibulkova said.

"She been in the finals of Grand Slam many times. She already won a Grand Slam, so she knows how it is. I'm playing finals, so that's something beautiful. It's like a dream. So I will go just out there and play my best, try to do my best.

"It's going to be a final. It's going to be final of the Grand Slam, so it's going to be a pretty big match. In the end of the Grand Slam, everything counts. So I think it's going to be fight for every ball."

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