The Russian has lost a record nine games in the lead up to the semi, but it was Li who did the routing today, as the Chinese sixth seed took just 93 minutes to account for the former champion on Rod Laver Arena.

Li broke Sharapova’s booming serve three times, including the first game in the opening set, and a break in the fifth game of the second set up the victory for the first ever Asian Grand Slam winner.

“Every time I’m back in Australia, I always feel something here,” said the 2011 French Open winner.

“I always play well here. Everyone can be nervous in a final, so I have to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it.”

Li will face the Belarusian world number one who beat US 29th seed Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4 in the other semi in Melbourne.

Azarenka overcame injury struggles in 40°C heat and at one stage left the court for 10 minutes of treatment for a “breathing problem” after the American had gallantly saved five match points.

“I almost did the choke of the year right now,” Azarenka said after the match. “At 5-3 having so many chances, couldn’t close it out but I’m glad I could close it out. Nerves got into me for sure.”

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