The final of the 2014 Australian Open Ladies Singles Championship is all set for Saturday between Na Li and Dominika Cibulkova.
My best bets in the semi-finals went one from two, with Li easing past Eugenie Bouchard in the advised straight sets, while Cibulkova stunned a rather flat and fatigued Aga Radwanska to earn her spot in the championship match.
Na Li 1.38 v Dominika Cibulkova 3.10
This is certainly not the final that many expected to see at the Rod Laver Arena, with Cibulkova making her first Grand Slam showpiece.
Li would have been on many punters’ shortlists after making the final here in 2011 and 2013, and she’ll be expecting to make it third time lucky after losing out to Vika Azarenka and Kim Clijsters in deciding sets in her previous finals at her home Grand Slam.
The Chinese star’s route to the final has been quite a comfortable one in recent rounds, and after surviving a major scare against Lucie Safarova in round three she’s lost just 12 games in total in her three subsequent matches.
She took apart Flavia Pennetta, Ekaterina Makarova and Bouchard in straights, and comes into this match having played arguably the best tennis of the tournament. She is rightly a 1.38 favourite to land her second major title.
Cibulkova has also played some stunning tennis this year and has emerged from her last three matches convincingly despite being a big underdog in the betting each time.
Indeed, the diminutive Slovak has dropped just 26 games in total all tournament in negotiating a draw that included the likes of Maria Sharapova, Radwanska, Simona Halep, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Fran Schiavone. That’s pretty impressive and she’ll think herself in with a puncher’s chance again as 3.10 underdog here.
Her record against Li is poor though, with zero wins in their four career meetings, the most recent coming on hard in Toronto last summer, and it’s a big ask for her to come out and play her ultra-attacking brand of tennis in her first major final.
She went on a similar run to this one at the French Open in 2009 when she thrashed Sharapova amongst others before bowing out to Dinara Safina in the semis, but she’s gone one better this time and much depends how she handles the occasion.
We saw Halep collapse crippled by nerves against her in the quarters here, and it’s a very tall order for Domi to come into this situation, take the bull by the horns and dispatch Li in the manner she has with the others.
Li – if she’s at her best again – will make sure that her length stops Domi from teeing off on her heavy groundstrokes, and there’s rarely a plan B with Cibulkova – it’s largely bashing from start to finish, win or lose.
I take Li to be just too classy on the day with that extra experience of three prior Slam finals behind her, and she certainly deserves a title here on all she’s given to this event over the last four or five years.
We know Li’s mind can wander and her level can fluctuate in matches on a reasonably regular basis, but she’ll have the wise words of Carlos Rodriguez ringing in her ears to keep her up to her work and I take her to land the title.
Interestingly, in each of the last three years here she’s gone out of the tournament by two sets to one after winning the opener – including the two finals – so Domi backers might look to the 2-1 win in Cibulkova’s favour at 6.00.
I like the 2-0 to Li here at 1.95 though, and other markets of interest are the 1.55 about Li minus 2.5 to hit the most aces, as Domi very rarely hits any at all.
The over 0.5 tie breaks at 3.80 is worth thinking about too, as both of their last two meetings have had one, and incredibly there hasn’t been a single breaker in the final here since Serena Williams played her sister Venus way back in 2003, so one is due.
Best Bet: Back Li to beat Cibulkova 2-0 at 1.95