Flavia Pennetta stunned Li Na in straight sets on Friday, avenging a loss to the Australian Open champion in Melbourne and booking an Indian Wells title clash with Agnieszka Radwanska. In a match that featured entertaining rallies but also 11 breaks of serve -- eight straight in the opening set -- 32-year-old Pennetta prevailed 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to reach the biggest final of her career. "I think we play really good tennis tonight," Pennetta said. "We fight a lot."
It was a contrast to their clash in the Australian Open quarter-finals, where Li crushed Pennetta 6-2, 6-2 en route to her second Grand Slam title. "In Australia I didn't have any chance against her," Pennetta said. "Tonight I played much better.
"I mean, I'm surprised also because in the beginning of the week if you ask me, 'What do you think? You going to make a final here?' I would say, 'Mmmm, I don't think so.'"
Pennetta's victims in the $12 million (8.6 million euros) combined WTA and ATP Masters tournament included former US Open champion Samantha Stosur as well as Sloane Stephens, the 16th and 17th seeds.
Li was hampered by nine double faults. Eight of those came in the 66-minute opening set, including one to give Pennetta the first frame on her second set point in the tiebreaker. "I don't think I was playing bad," Li said. "I think it was pretty high level match. Some points I was feeling I still have chance (but) more important point I got double fault."
She said the double faults -- which bedeviled her in earlier matches here as well -- were due to a change she's working on with the mechanics of her serve.
Li said she thinks she will soon have the problem solved. After surrendering the first set, Li seized a 2-0 advantage in the second, but Pennetta won six of the next seven games, clinching the victory with a stinging backhand up the line. "It's not bad," Li insisted. "It's not like I lost my first match.
"At least I had a few matches here, and making semis isn't bad, and it's not like I lost to a bad player. She was playing really well today."
Radwanska seeks revenge
Awaiting Pennetta in Sunday's final will be world number three Radwanska, who defeated sixth-seeded Romanian Simona Halep 6-3, 6-4. Radwanska has won four of six career encounters with Pennetta, but the Italian beat her in straight sets in Dubai last month.
Radwanska is hoping she can avenge that defeat -- just as she turned the tables on Halep after falling to the 22-year-old Romanian in the semi-finals at Doha last month. "I think similar to Halep, I'm looking forward to playing her and getting a little bit of revenge," Radwanska said of her shot at Pennetta. "It'll be a tough one."
Perhaps stung by her loss to eventual champion Halep in Doha, Radwanska came out with an aggressive game plan, quickly seizing a 4-0 lead. Halep, who is projected to rise from her current ranking of seventh to fifth in the world next week, stanched the bleeding, but Radwanska served out the set with an ace on her first set point. She broke Halep twice in the second set to seal the win.