Li Na advances to Sydney final

SYDNEY -- Defending champion Li Na reached the Sydney International final with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Petra Kvitova on Thursday, ending the Czech's bid to become No. 1 before the Australian Open.

Kvitova needed to win the Sydney International to replace Caroline Wozniacki atop the rankings when they're updated on Monday, and the Wimbledon champion was on track when she led by a set and a break.

But Li rallied to reach back-to-back finals at Sydney, and will play Friday against No. 3-ranked Victoria Azarenka, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In the men's quarterfinals, 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis beat top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 7-6 (7), 6-4.

Baghdatis will play Julien Benneteau of France, who beat Alex Bogomolov Jr. 6-2, 6-4.

Also, Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan beat third-seeded Richard Gasquet of France 6-4, 7-6 (4) to set up a semifinal against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, who had a 6-3, 6-3 win over American Bobby Reynolds.

Li reached the Australian Open final last year two weeks after winning in Sydney. She went one better at the next major, winning the French Open to become the first player from China to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Li's form dipped at the end of last season and she lost in the second round at Wimbledon and the opening round at the U.S. Open, but she started to get back into form in the earlier rounds at Sydney.

A pep talk from her husband and coach Shan Jiang after the first set against Kvitova helped refocus Li.

"OK, he say, 'If you play same like this, you'll lose match easy,' " said Li, who has developed a reputation for poking fun at her husband in postmatch interviews.

After the win over Kvitova, who beat Wozniacki at the Hopman Cup last week, Li said she's back to about where she was at this time last year.

"I'm back and I am feeling stronger, not only in my body but also in my mind," Li said. "It was a big win for me today against Petra, especially after she won Istanbul (the WTA Championships) and the Hopman Cup."