Tennis-Australian Open women's finalists


MELBOURNE, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Brief biographies of the women's finalists at the 2014 Australian Open on Saturday:

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Li Na (China)

Age: 31

Seeded: 4

Grand Slam titles: 1 - French Open (2011)

Li Na has continued her love affair with the year's first grand slam, where she has made at least the semi-finals four times since 2010.

Her match against Cibulkova will be her third final at Melbourne Park after losing the 2011 title to Belgium's Kim Clijsters and to Victoria Azarenka last year.

Like many elite Chinese athletes, Li was hand-picked to train with the country's Soviet-style sports system from a young age but was initially identified as a badminton player before being moved into tennis.

Li spent much of her career clashing with China's tennis administration over pay, training and national duty, and gave up the game for a period to study media at university.

She returned to the tour in 2004 to capture the first WTA title for China in Guangzhou, and became the first Chinese to reach a grand slam quarter-final at Wimbledon in 2006.

Li struggled with injuries during 2007-08, and missed out on a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, but began to play her best tennis from 2009 after being permitted to manage her own career and training with a handful of other top women players in a landmark decision by China's tennis association.

She advanced to a second grand slam quarter-final at the 2009 U.S. Open, and a maiden major semi-final at the 2010 Australian Open, which made her the first Chinese player to crack the top 10.

The late-blooming Li captured the 2011 French Open title at the age of 29, where she defeated Francesca Schiavone to become the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title.

That gave her a then career-high ranking of four, equal to the record for an Asian player held by Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Li spent the next year and a half in the grand slam wilderness, until her revival at Melbourne Park last year under new coach Carlos Rodriguez, who guided Belgian Justine Henin to seven grand slam titles.

Used last year's loss to Azarenka at Melbourne Park to propel her to career highest ranking of three and made the final of the season-ending WTA Championships, losing to world number one Serena Williams.

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Path to the final (prefix denotes seeding): 1st round - beat Ana Konjuh (Croatia) 6-2 6-0 2nd round - beat Belinda Bencic (Switzerland) 3rd round - beat 26-Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic) 1-6 7-6 6-3 4th round - beat 22-Ekaterina Makarova (Russia) 6-2 6-0 QF - beat 28-Flavia Pennetta (Italy) 6-2 6-2 SF - beat 30-Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) 6-2 6-4

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Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia)

Age: 24

Seeded: 20

Introduced to tennis at age seven by her parents.

Breakthrough season in 2008 when she made the top-20 for the first time and advanced to two WTA Tour finals.

Made the semi-finals at Roland Garros as a 19-year-old but was beaten by then world number one Dinara Safina.

Won her first WTA Tour title at Moscow in 2011 and has won one title every year since - at Carlsbad in 2012 and Stanford in 2013.

Prior to her current run at Melbourne Park, her best grand slam performance since the 2009 French Open was a quarter-final finish at the 2010 U.S. Open, 2011 Wimbledon and 2012 Roland Garros.

Failed to capitalise on her early promise and has been inconsistent, which accounts for her inability to crack the top-10. Has 21 career victories over players in the top-10 but was also defeated in the first round 10 times in 2013.

Relatively short compared to many of her competitors on the WTA Tour, the 1.60-metre (5ft-3in) tall righthander has tremendous court coverage and powerful groundstrokes that she has used to great effect at Melbourne Park.

Her high-energy, aggressive, powerful style was used to great effect in the fourth round against world number three Maria Sharapova, who she frustrated with her retrieving ability before over-running the Russian with powerful groundstrokes.

Became Slovakia's first grand slam finalist after her demolition of fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals.

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Path to the final (prefix denotes seeding): 1st round - beat Francesca Schiavone (Italy) 6-3 6-4 2nd round - beat Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland) 6-0 6-1 3rd round - beat 16-Carla Suazrez Navarro (Spain) 6-1 6-0 4th round - beat 3-Maria Sharapova (Russia) 3-6 6-4 6-1 QF - beat 11-Simona Halep (Romania) 6-3 6-0 SF - beat 5-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) 6-1 6-2

- - - - (Compiled by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien)

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