Clijsters labours into final

Clijsters labours into final

Belgian takes on Chinese Li Na in title clash

Li Na

The 27-year-old Belgian is favourite for the Australian Open but required all of her expertise at winning clutch points in a ding-dong battle with the big-hitting Russian at a windy Sydney Olympic Park.

The US Open champion clinched her place in the final when Kleybanova went long with a backhand after a hard-fought two hours and 38 minutes, maintaining her record of not having lost a semifinal or final since coming out of retirement in 2009.

In Friday's final, Clijsters will meet China's Li Na, who continues to suggest she might match or even better last year's breakthrough at Melbourne Park.

The 28-year-old, who made it to the semifinals at the year's first Grand Slam in 2010, came back from a break down in the first set to beat Serbian teenager Bojana Jovanovski 7-6, 6-3.

Former top 10 player Gilles Simon continued his battle back from a serious knee injury to reach the last four in the men's tournament with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov.

His semifinal opponent Ernest Gulbis was, by contrast, feeling terrible after his 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal victory over another Ukrainian, Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Ferrer, Almagro through

Top seed David Ferrer and second seed Nicolas Almagro both got what they wanted in terms of preparing for the Australian Open with tough three-set matches before advancing to the semifinals of the Auckland Open

Champion John Isner was unable to repeat the feat on Thursday and was knocked out by a resurgent David Nalbandian 6-4, 7-6. The Argentine was too fast for the towering American.

World number seven Ferrer was stretched again on Thursday before finally overcoming 2008 champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

Ferrer will play the winner of the late quarterfinal between Colombia's Santiago Giraldo and seventh seed Thomaz Bellucci. Almagro did not have it all his own way against French qualifier Adrian Mannarino but eventually claimed a 7-6, 6-7, 6-2 victory.

Rain washes out play

Persistent rain confined a raft of Australian Open contenders to the clubhouse at the invitational Kooyong Classic on Thursday, washing out the second day and leaving organisers with headaches to cobble a working schedule.

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