Li Na came within 'five centimeters' of losing to Safarova

Li Na rallied to pull out a 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory over Lucie Safarova in the third round.
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Li Na knows how lucky she is to play another round at the Australian Open after facing match point against hard-hitting Lucie Safarova on Friday.

''I think five centimeters saved my tournament,'' she said, indicating with her fingers how close Safarova's shot at break point in the second set had been to sending her home. ''If she hit in, I think, the whole team is on the way to the airport.''

The fourth-seeded Li narrowly avoided being the highest-seeded casualty on the women's side of the tournament, saving the only match point she faced before rallying to beat her Czech opponent, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3, in a 2 1/2-hour battle in the stifling heat at Hisense Arena.

Li, the 2011 French Open champion, was out-of-sorts in the early going, losing the first set in 27 minutes after making 18 unforced errors to only two winners.

Her serve was under pressure the entire second set, as well. Safarova broke her twice to take a 5-3 lead, and after failing to serve it out, got to match point on Li's serve in the 12th game.

Li's coach, Carlos Rodriguez, was so frustrated at one point, he pointed to his head and mouthed to her emphatically, ''Think!'' She said the admonition was intended to help her focus better at critical times.

''You know, women's tennis sometimes is crazy, the tour, because I (am) sometimes thinking too much,'' she said, laughing about it later. ''So I was like, OK, just focus here to see what happens.''

Even when the going gets tough, Li finds a way to laugh it off. She started her on-court interview after the match by asking to move into the shadows, then joked that she had been enjoying the 42C (107F) weather so much, she wanted to play three sets.

A two-time finalist at Melbourne Park, Li is considered a legitimate threat to win the title this year, but she acknowledges she'll have to make adjustments to play better against her next opponent, Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who has reached the quarterfinals the past two years.

She just doesn't want to think about it yet.

''At least I win the match, so (I'm) still in the tournament,'' she said. ''I just finished the match. I really want to enjoy the day now. I don't really want to think what I should practice for tomorrow.''

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.