Melbourne, Jan 27 (AFP): Novak Djokovic sensationally knocked Roger Federer out of the Australian Open semi-finals today, leaving the defending champion without a Grand Slam title for the first time in eight years.
The third seed's comprehensive 7-6 (7/3), 7-5, 6-4 victory over the great Swiss came after China's Li Na made history by becoming the first Asian woman to reach a major final, where she will meet Kim Clijsters on Saturday.
Federer, 29, was outplayed in a high-quality tussle on Rod Laver Arena, a day after Rafael Nadal's injury-hastened exit ended the Spaniard's bid for the "Rafa Slam" sweep of all four major titles.
"He puts a lot of pressure on you, so I tried to stay to the last moment and really it was one of the best matches I've played in a while," Djokovic said.
"I had to take my chances, in the second set I was a break up and in 20 minutes I was 5-2 down, so if I had lost that set God knows which direction the match would go."
Djokovic's win leaves him facing either Britain's Andy Murray or Spain's David Ferrer in Sunday's final, where men's tennis will have its first Grand Slam champion other than Nadal or Federer in three years.
The Serbian world number three, who also beat Federer in last year's US Open semis, now has a golden chance to add to his lone Grand Slam title achieved in Melbourne in 2008 -- when he also bested the Swiss in the semis.
Meanwhile, world number two Federer lost his last remaining major title after a record 16-Slam streak which began with his first victory at Wimbledon in 2003, ending an era of unprecedented dominance.
"Novak was the better player tonight, I've got to accept that and move on," the four-time winner said. "It's not the end anyway... I wish I could have won here for the fifth time, but it was impossible tonight."
The impressive Djokovic took control of the first-set tiebreaker and recovered from a double service break in the second to take a two-set lead over the rattled Federer, before gaining the crucial break late in the third.
Earlier Li stunned world number one Caroline Wozniacki to set up a final with Belgium's three-time Grand Slam winner Clijsters, who crushed world number two Vera Zvonareva.
Li clawed her way back from match point down to clinch it 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, and lie one win from a maiden Chinese major victory which could ignite tennis's growth in her giant home country.
It was sheer delight for the beaming Li, who was beaten by Serena Williams in last year's semi-final, and heroically recovered from a dreadful start against Wozniacki which she blamed on a lack of sleep.
"I didn't have a good night's sleep last night," she joked. "My husband (snored). I woke up every hour."
But the result meant heartbreak for Wozniacki, who remains without a major title, meaning she will undoubtedly face more questions about her legitimacy as the world's best player. Her best result is US Open runner-up in 2009.
"Sometimes in matches or in tennis it's one ball that can change everything. I didn't get my match point. From then on, well, she was just better at the most important points," said the despondent Wozniacki.
However, Li will be in no doubt about the task ahead after Clijsters steamrolled Russia's Zvonareva with ominous ease to reach her second Australian Open final 6-3, 6-3 in just 1hr 13min.
Clijsters said she played her best tennis of the tournament. In 2004, Clijsters was runner-up to countrywoman Justine Henin, who announced her retirement overnight after an elbow injury.
The result meant more frustration for Zvonareva, who was a beaten finalist at the previous two Grand Slam finals, including September's US Open loss to Clijsters.
"Vera is a tough player and I knew it would be a tough match against her," Clijsters said. "I knew I had to be on top of my game and lift my level compared to my other matches. I was able to rise to the occasion."
Zvonareva, 26, got off to the perfect start when she broke Clijsters in the opening game, but from there on the Belgian dominated. The 27-year-old barely made a mistake, banishing the erratic form that has plagued her career.