Li Na the favourite
Sportsbooks send Li Na into the Australian Open final as the hot favourite, listed at -275 to win outright.
Fourth seed Li Na reaches her third Australian Open final, second in as many seasons. Her first final appearance came in 2011 but ended in a three set defeat to Kim Clijsters 3-6 6-3 6-3. Last year, she reached the final again only to fall to the then defending champion Victoria Azarenka in three sets 4-6 6-4 6-3. Both times, Li Na won the first set.
Overall, Li Na is making her fourth major final appearance and takes a 1-2 record after winning the French Open in 2011, beating defending champion Francesca Schiavone in straight sets 6-4, 7-6(7).
Li Na advanced into the Melbourne final with a convincing victory over up-and-comer Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 in the semis. The 32-year-old Chinese star stared defeat in the face in her third round match against Lucie Safarova but since saving match point, she reeled off three straight victories, dropping just 12 games on her way to the ultimate round.
Dominika Cibulkova significant underdog
Standing 5’3”tall, the diminutive Dominika Cibulkova defies preconceived notions about a tennis player and the odds stacked against her to reach her first-ever final. In the 24-year-old Slovak’s own words, she’s playing the best tennis of her life.
Cibulkova’s best major performance to date was a semifinal appearance at the French Open in 2009 where she lost to Dinara Safina 6-3, 6-3. Five years on, she reaches her first-ever major final. Predictably, she’s the quintessential underdog at +225 tennis odds across all sportsbooks to win outright.
Cibulkova has been on a bit a giant-slaying spree in Oz however and, thus, she can’t be underestimated. She took down World No.3 Sharapova in the fourth round, storming back from a set down to win in three 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. She then beat No.11 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 in the quarters and World No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in the semis.
Tennis Betting Verdict: Tennis betting markets correctly tip this match with Li Na as the favourite and Cibulkova as the underdog. But nothing can be taken for granted in tennis, a game of millimetres.
Despite the height disparity between Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova there are many similarities to their game. Both are quintessential power players, strong from the baseline with penetrating groundstrokes.
Li Na’s weapon is her two-handed backhand, which she brandished effectively to sweep Eugenie Bouchard aside in the semis. Cibulkova’s forehand is dangerous. She’s quick to the trigger but when she’s on she can blow just about any player off the court. Steamrolling Radwanska in the semis was proof positive of its deadliness. Li Na has an added edge over Cibulkova with her serve and net play, two things she’ll need to use successfully in order to win the title and come through as the correct tennis pick.
The similarities between the pair extend to temperament as well. Both are fiery competitors, prone to mood swings and, as a result, momentum swings. Both have dropped just one set en route to the final and so it’s no surprise that markets lean towards a straight sets win in either player’s case – Li Na is listed at -110 to win in straight sets while Cibulkova is listed at +400 tennis odds to win in straight sets at Bet365. A three set win for Li Na is going for +250 while for Cibulkova it’s listed at +500.
Handling pressure and the occasion has been difficult for both players in the past, although Li Na has more experience at this level having reached three major finals already, twice at Oz. That will be another advantage Li Na will hope tips the scale in her favour. Over and above her head-to-head advantage over Cibulkova that stands at a perfect 4-0.
Tennis Free Picks: Li Na in three sets at -275; to win 2-1 at +250