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Li Na has slipped through the radar to make the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. Serena Williams’ withdrawal may have gifted the Chinese woman a chance to beat Maria Sharapova, but Li has enjoyed an excellent week not dropping a set in victories over Iveta Benesova, Chanelle Scheepers and Dominka Cibulkova.
After an excellent couple of years where Li won last year in Roland Garros, 2012 has been something of a struggle so far. Apart from a final place in Sydney, Li has not got past the quarter-finals of any tournament this year. Her game is usually extremely consistent although she is known to have the odd lapses in concentration.
Li’s record against Sharapova is certainly acceptable with four wins from the pair’s 10 matches and certainly her recent form against the Russian should be enough to worry last year’s champion. Taking out Sharapova’s straight sets win in Miami this year, Li won the last four meetings all in straight sets including victory in last year’s French Open semi-final on the way to the title.
Sharapova is a winner in Stuttgart this year and also reach finals at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami. She too has yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament, beating Christina McHale, Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams before Saturday’s victory against Angelique Kerber. Incredibly, Sharapova has not won a Grand Slam since Australia 2008 but triumphing here again will be a big stepping stone ahead of a busy summer.