Li Na could finish a career-high No. 3 in the rankings if she goes undefeated and makes the final, or if she wins the title. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL -- Li Na beat Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 at the WTA Championships on Thursday to remain undefeated in the White Group and boost her chances of making the semifinals.
Dictating play for much of the match, Li battled through her own frustration to overcome Jankovic's scrambling defense and improve to 2-0 in round-robin play. Though she served at 70 percent, Li was broken five times due to a particularly ineffective second serve.
In the face of Jankovic's aggressive return, Li converted just 30 percent of her second-serve points (7 of 23) and had to rely on her own return game to do damage. Li earned 21 break points and converted six, and she got 82 percent of her returns in play. Li converted 19 of 23 net points, but confessed it was a mental struggle to get herself to the net when the match got tight.
"If I try to always stay on the baseline, maybe I need [to run more] today," Li said. "[A] couple [of] points I try to come to the net. I was like, OK, continue. But when the nervous time [came], I was, like, [play it safe], stay [on the] baseline."
Jankovic, who was coming off a straight-set win over Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday, played another quality match. She said the match turned on just a few points, but was disappointed by her serve in the final set.
"Not a lot of first serves in in the third, and it's very important against her to have that accuracy and high percentage," Jankovic said. "I think toward the end I was getting a little bit tired and my focus went down. I think that was the difference. So she stayed very solid until the end."
Despite the loss, Jankovic is still in the running to qualify for the semifinals. With a round-robin record of 1-1, she plays Sara Errani on Friday.
"Even though I lost today, I think I played a great match," Jankovic said. "So there is no reason for me to put my head down or be negative and disappointed. Just learn from my mistakes that I did today and move on. There is another day tomorrow, and I have to work hard tomorrow too to put myself into position to be playing the semis."
Li has a chance to finish the season at a career-high No. 3. She can do so by either going undefeated through round-robin play and making the final or by winning the title. But she still has work to do to qualify for the semifinals. She can secure her spot if she wins a set against Azarenka on Friday.
"Now one foot is in the semis, but another foot is still out of the door, so I have to see how it's going tomorrow," Li said.
Winning the White Group could ensure Li doesn't have to play Serena Williams in the semifinals if Serena wins the Red Group.