INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Li Na beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in a rematch of their Australian Open final, moving the Chinese star into the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.
Li, who beat Cibulkova to win her second Grand Slam title in January, dropped her first set in four matches while improving to 15-1 this year. Li is playing her first major tournament as the No. 1 seed.
"Not like before if I come here, maybe like No. 6 or No. 7 seed," she said. "But I think I am handling very well, so just continue."
Sloane Stephens, the lone American woman left in the field, played Flavia Pennetta later Thursday, with the winner advancing to face Li. No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep meet in the other semifinal Friday.
Li rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the second set to close to 5-4 before Cibulkova called for her coach. After they huddled, the Slovak player held to even the match at a set apiece.
They traded breaks to open the third. Cibulkova survived a service game that went to deuce seven times and staved off four break points to tie it up 2-2.
"I'm disappointed I didn't win because I had my chances. These are chances you have to take with such a player," Cibulkova said. "My serve was just not there. Maybe I tried to go for too much. Her serve was much better than mine."
Li's ace gave her a 4-3 lead as she swept to the final three games and the victory.
Since adding the Australian crown to the French Open title she won in 2011, Li's popularity continues to grow. She has 10 million fans on Chinese social media, and she has noticed the increased attention at Indian Wells.
"Even like practicing the fans were watching," she said. "But I think I find more fans supporting my husband, not for me. Even we are practicing, working out, if he hit a winner, everyone was like so happy."
In the men's quarterfinals, Alexandr Dolgopolov beat Milos Raonic 6-3, 6-4, ensuring the Ukrainian will rise to a projected No. 23 in next week's ATP Tour rankings. Already, he has made the biggest jump in the top 50, moving up 26 spots since the end of last year to No. 31 before the tournament began.
Dolgopolov faces a semifinal matchup against either Roger Federer or Kevin Anderson, who played later. Dolgopolov improved to 6-2 against top-20 opponents this year, including his third-round win over top-ranked Rafael Nadal.
Raonic took out fourth-ranked Andy Murray in three sets in the fourth round, but he couldn't follow it up win a win over Dolgopolov in their first meeting.
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