Melbourne: Stanislas Wawrinka edged Tomas Berdych in the tightest of duels to reach his first Grand Slam final at the 36th attempt on Thursday and set up a possible all-Swiss Australian Open title showdown against Roger Federer.
Federer will have to get past world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the second semi-final on Friday first, but 28-year-old Wawrinka did his part by the narrowest of margins with a 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(3), 7-6(4) victory over the tall Czech.
The earlier women’s semi-finals were one-sided affairs with China’s Li Na beating teenager Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 to get to her third Melbourne final and diminutive dynamo Dominika Cibulkova downing Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 to reach her first.
There was nothing uneven about the battle between the seventh seed Berdych and eighth seed Wawrinka that followed on Rod Laver Arena in which three of the four sets were decided by tie-breaks.
While Wawrinka’s victory over defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter finals was all about guts and shot-making, the arm-wrestle with Berdych was a study in big serving and heavy hitting.
Wawrinka grabbed the only break of serve in the contest to take the first set and exactly three hours later he clinched the fourth-set tiebreak on his second match point, a thumping unreturnable serve providing a fitting climax.
“It’s amazing. I didn’t expect to make a Grand Slam final in my career,” Wawrinka said before turning his mind to the possibility of facing Federer.
With top three seeds — Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova — all victims of upsets, Li knows she will rarely have a better chance of adding another Grand Slam title to her 2011 French Open crown.
The 31-year-old, who dodged a bullet when she faced match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round, set off at a blistering pace and won 20 of the first 23 points to take a 5-0 lead.
It could not last and the 19-year-old Canadian broke and held serve for 5-2 before fourth seed Li upped her game again and wrapped up the first set with a forehand volley.
The second set was a closer affair with Bouchard grabbing an early break but Li ramped up the power on her groundstrokes and added another 22 winners to the 13 she smashed in the opening stanza to seal victory.
“I think I played very well the beginning of the match,” said Li. “The second set was a little bit tighter because I was feeling that I already had one foot in the final. I think it is the third time (in the final), so I’m pretty close to the trophy.”
Cibulkova has been on fire at Melbourne Park this year, belying her lowly seeding by upsetting Sharapova and doling out a string of thrashings as she made her way to the last four.
“It’s like a dream. It’s something so unbelievable,” she said. “I was 100 per cent ready for it and I was just doing what I had to do. That’s why I won,” she said.