MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — When Li Na thinks back to her first Australian Open final, she doesn't recall feeling nervous. Just very excited.
The 31-year-old Chinese star makes her third attempt at winning the championship in Melbourne on Saturday, and this time she's nervous.
Experience has taught her how to play on tennis' biggest stages, Li said on the eve of the final.
"Come to the court. Just play. Don't think too much," said Li, who this time — for the first time — is considered the favorite to win the Australian Open.
After two weeks of stunning upsets cleared away Li's top competition, she will face No. 20-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an unheralded but explosive player who has steamrolled through the tournament with the carefree spirit of a player with nothing to lose. The 24-year-old Slovakian beat four higher-ranked players including No. 3 Maria Sharapova in the fourth-round and No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals.
"Everyone has a chance to win the title," Li said Friday, deflection questions about the pressure of managing expectations or the fact that this is Cibulkova's first final, or that she has played Cibulkova four times and beaten her on each occasion. "I think I'm ready. Same like her."
One thing Li did talk about — a recurring theme of her news conferences in Melbourne — is how much she's changed. The Li Na in this year's final is not the same player that lost to Victoria Azarenka in 2013, or to the now-retired Kim Clijsters in 2011.
Li's breakthrough came at the 2011 Australian Open when she gained fame as the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final.
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