Can diminuitive Dominika down Na Li in Australian Open Final?
Not many thought that Stanislas Wawrinka would make the final of the men’s Australian Open and much fewer still will have predicted that the women’s final would be contested by Na Li and Dominika Cibulkova.
World number four Li (4/11 with Coral) is not a big surprise – how could she be after playing in the final twice in the last three years – but 20th seed Cibulkova (9/4) is straight out of left field.
And to everybody convinced that to have any chance at this level you need to have the power of Serena Williams or the physical stature of Maria Sharapova, it is a total mystery how the first Slovak ever to reach a Grand Slam final has got this far.
At five feet three inches, Cibulkova is among the smallest women on tour, but what she lacks in size she makes up for in energy, determination and no little skill.
The 24-year-old, who actually knocked out Sharapova earlier in the tournament, is a familiar name to tennis enthusiasts, having won three singles titles and reached the semi-finals of the 2009 French Open and the quarter-finals of the US Open (2010) and Wimbledon (2011).
But an impressive 6-1 6-2 victory over Agnieszka Radwanska (who had just knocked out the reigning champion Victoria Azarenka) in this week’s semi-final has taken her to a whole new level.
So can she finish off the job? Li, who beat another surprise packet Eugenie Bouchard 6-2 6-4 in her semi-final, seems to flourish in Melbourne, but the 31-year-old from China also won the French Open in 2011 and, what is more, has won all four meetings with Cibulkova – she has the pedigree to start this final as a strong favourite.
But this has been a tournament of upsets and with that other ball of energy Wawrinka on the verge of winning his first Grand Slam event, maybe there are one or two shocks still to come.
It’s 10/11 that Li wins in straight sets, but if Cibulkova doesn’t suffer stage fright and produces the sort of tennis she has been playing throughout the fortnight then she might just wear down her higher-ranked opponent. Coral’s 9/2 that she triumphs 2-1 has some appeal.