Li Na returns to Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic during their women's singles match at the 2014 Australian Open in Melbourne on Friday. Photo: CFP
A few centimeters was all that stood between Li Na and an early exit at the Australian Open on Friday, as the fourth seed saved a match point before beating Czech Lucie Safarova 1-6, 7-6(7/2), 6-3 in their third round encounter.
Li, a finalist at Melbourne Park in 2011 and 2013, thought she was beaten when left-hander Safarova struck a backhand down the line on match point in the second set.
But the ball was called out and even though Safarova challenged, the replay showed it was just a few centimeters long.
From there Li cut down on her mistakes, took the tiebreak 7-2 and then eased through the decider to take her place in the last 16.
"I think the five centimeters saved my tournament," Li said after the long match played in temperatures over 40 C. "If she had hit it in ... the whole team [would have been] on the way to the airport."
It was a challenge Li did not make that affected her hopes of reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon last year, when her serve on set point in the opening set was called out, but shown to be in on the replay.
In the searing heat, Li was outplayed in the first heat as Safarova struck a series of winning hits, but once she had achieved a tiebreak the game changed.
The fourth seed now plays Ekaterina Makarova, a Russian left-hander who has reached the quarterfinals in each of the past two years.
"At least today I was playing against a lefty so I can be used to her serve a little bit because lefty is totally different than right hand," Li said.
But Li has ruled herself out of playing at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Li, who missed out on a medal at home in Beijing in 2008 when she lost the bronze decider to Russia's Vera Zvonareva, crashed out in the first round at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
"I think it's time for younger players to have a chance at the Olympic Games," the world No.4 said. "I don't think I'll be playing at Rio in 2016. They are too far away."
Friday also saw another Chinese female tennis trailblazer, Zheng Jie, suffer a defeat to local favorite Casey Dellacqua 6-2, 6-4 under Melbourne's severe heat waves.
The 2010 semifinalist, who lay down and was rubbed with ice, and had her pulse checked before continuing against Dellacqua, described how she felt sick and had palpitations before needing medical treatment for heat stress.
"I felt so hot, my mind wasn't working. I was looking at the ball, but I couldn't focus on it. Then I couldn't concentrate," she said.
For the Chinese women's doubles, WTA Championships winners Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-wei were upset by Shahar Peer of Israel and Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain 5-7, 6-3, 4-6.
In the men's singles on Friday, second-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia, third-seeded David Ferrer of Spain, seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and eight-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka all qualified for the next round.