There are much bigger matches to come in the next few weeks, but after tonight's semifinal victory Li Na is officially ready for them. Now, that doesn't necessarily that she's guaranteed to make the Australian Open semifinals for a third straight time, or make the finals like she did last year, or win her second Grand Slam, but what it does mean is that Li's confidence is at it's "sweet spot" after her come from behind 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over red hot Petra Kvitova in the Apia International Sydney semifinal.
Kvitova has long been a consensus pick to make noise at the Australian Open, which begins Sunday, but Li, with her spirited effort today, is making a lot of experts take note of her form.
"Yeah, I'm back," said a typically glib Li in her post-match press conference today, and few will argue with her now, as she's won her first seven matches of the year (three of which were Hopman Cup exhibitions), and will clash with Victoria Azarenka in the final.
"I was feeling stronger -- not only for the body but also in the mind," said Li. "I believe in myself (that) I can do better," she added with a satisfied nod, and the signature smile that the tennis world came to know and love last spring.
It will be hard for a woman of Li's ability to not do better, given that she had basically fallen off the map after her monumental French Open title run last year.
But that's all in the past now. Fresh year, fresh player, as they say.
Kvitova, on the other hand, will have to reconcile the fact that she failed to convert an opportunity to claim the No. 1 ranking in addition to failing to win a match that she dominated early on. Most believe that Kvitova is destined to become the WTA's No. 1 player sooner rather than later, but the burning question is: will the loss to Li impact her confidence heading into Melbourne?
It wasn't simply that she lost, it was the way that Li outdueled her in the crucial moments of the match. Once Kvitova failed to convert on a double break point at 2-3 in the third set, Li reeled off 11 consecutive points that landed her at match point.
Counting her recent appearance in Hopman Cup, Kvitova had won 17 consecutive matches coming into this semifinal. Now that she'll head into the Australian on a losing streak, her first few matches will be crucial in terms of gaining much-needed confidence for the later rounds.
For Li, confidence is overflowing.
But that's what crazy about tennis. One minute you can be on top of the world, and the next you can be cannon fodder for young upstarts. Li knows this, because she's been there and done that, as recently as last year.
Now that she's back in form, both physically and mentally, her annual Australian run looks to be shaping up quite nicely.