HUA HIN : Li Na yesterday won the Hua Hin World Tennis Invitational by beating world No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 2-6, 10-7, in a match decided by a champions tiebreaker.
Li Na, left, claimed the title after a third-set tiebreaker against Victoria Azarenka.
A healthy crowd turned up at Hua Hin Centennial Park to watch Azarenka and Li, who replaced Serena Williams at the event. Li made a strong start and shot out to a 3-2 lead over her opponent, using her heavy groundstrokes to break Azarenka and go ahead 4-2.
Azarenka broke back immediately but was unable to hold the momentum, Li winning the next two games to clinch the first set 6-3.
In the second set, Azarenka found her rhythm and broke Li in the sixth game to lead 4-2. Li began to struggle to return Azarenka's powerful serve and the Belarusian had little trouble closing out the second set.
In place of a third set, the pair instead played a champions tiebreaker _ in which the first player to reach 10 points, with a lead of at least two, claims victory. And it was Li who managed to find an extra gear when it counted most.
She rushed to a 9-4 lead but then wobbled, allowing Azarenka to win the next three points to close to 9-7. At that point, though, Li steadied to claim the tiebreaker and the match.
Both players were happy for the extra match-practice as the new season gathers pace.
"It was a good game _ I enjoyed it a lot," Li said afterward. "I hope to come back next year. I'm going back to Shenzhen for the New Year."
Azarenka, meanwhile, heads to Australia to continue her preparation for the year's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open in Melbourne.
"It was the first match for me [this year]," she said. "I hope the people enjoy it as we tried our best in entertaining the fans."
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- Writer: Tor Chittinand