Hello everyone and thank you for joining Sports Mole for today's opening semi-final encounter.
Li has been improving steadily as this tournament has gone on. Last time she was thoroughly impressive in knocking out Radwanska.
this will be the first of the two women's semi-finals today. The other being Sloane Stephens against Victoria Azarenka, which we will bring you after this one.
Sharapova has dominated in every match so far. Last time she won 6-2 6-2
over fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, and has dropped just nine games in five matches so far.
Take a look at our preview of this one: Jack Prescott is tipping
Sharapova to reach the final of the Grand Slam that she won in 2008.
I think I'll go so far as to say Sharapova should win this one in straight sets. Although both players have been excellent, there are more errors in Li's game and the Russian is one of the best out there at capitalising on mistakes.
Carlos Rodriguez, who replaced Li's husband as her coach last summer, thinks that the Chinese just needs to believe in herself a little more. Here's what he said
in the build-up to this one.
After Sharapova's win against Makarova, she had only praise for her semi-final opponent, believing her to be the most-improved player last year. Here are her comments
There are three of the semi-finals today on Rod Laver Arena, with the final men's encounter taking place tomorrow. The finals are then on Saturday and Sunday.
The players are expected on court in the next few minutes to begin their warm-ups. Remember Sharapova won in 2008 but Li has only been a beaten finalist.
Li has, however, been champion at the French Open. That was in the same year she reached the final here - 2011. Can she have an even more successful by starting well here?
Sharapova the overwhelming favourite. Embarrassingly short odds for the final four stage of a Slam - she can be backed at 1/5, while the best odds to be had for Li are 3/1.
Li chooses to receive to start this one, and will do so after the warm-up.
The head to head record between these two is in the Russian's favour having won the last four. She is 8-4 up in all.
These two have looked arguably the most consistent performers in the women's draw so far. Certainly Li will have to keep that up to win today. Time called, we're set for the start.
Sharapova to serve, let's go!
Double fault to start things for the Russian..
And another! Awful start for Sharapova. Surely she's not nervous?
Fantastic forehand brings Sharapova level at 30-30.
BREAK! Well, what a start for the Chinese! More due to bad play from Sharapova than anything on her part, Li brings it to deuce and she saves game point with a big backhand down the line. She earns herself a break point and converts it with Sharapova netting.
A good decision from Li to receive first up. She needs to hold this one, though.
It's 44 degrees out in the sun on court at the moment! Still not even midday. Wow.
Errors now from Li on her serve as Sharapova moves 15-30 ahead.
What a forehand from Sharapova! Immediate break back point after a running forehand back across court.
Li saves the break point with a strong backhand and another close game this time goes the way of the serve. Li consolidates her break; the perfect start.
Much better from Sharapova on serve. Li doesn't get a look in as the Russian takes her first game with a forehand winner. She gets another chance to attack the Li serve.
A big baseline rally ends with Sharapova clipping the net cord and Li powering a backhand across the court.
Li holds to love. Absolutely nothing Sharapova can do about that as Li's form continues.
BREAK! Sharapova recovers from 0-30 but Li claws it back to deuce. Li saves a game point when the Russian again puts a backhand long. Sharapova then saves break point after Li's turn to go long. The Chinese keeps up the pressure and finally forces the double break with a big forehand setting up the backhand winner.
Important game this for both players. Sharapova is battling and is 15-30 up.
Now two break points..
Li saves one with an incredible, and risky, backhand into the corner.
She is then run all over the court on defence, with Sharapova hitting a forehand wide. Deuce.
BREAK! Sharapova doesn't give up, however, and fights back to take the important break.
Not many service games have been comfortable so far and we look to be in for another close one at 15-30.
BREAK! Sharapova fights back to move ahead in the game but a thumping return brings us to another deuce. It's again point for point, with Sharapova saving a few break points but is powerless to stop a Li forehand to net. Li will serve for the first set.
SET! A comfortable service game to 15 brings up the opening set for Li. She's been utterly brilliant so far and Sharapova - yes, Sharapova - has had no answers at all. The Russian is in trouble and must come out fighting in the second.
Sharapova has made too many errors so far, but that's largely down to Li's aggressive play, but also her patience in rallies.
That's just what Sharapova was looking for at the start of the set. A relatively comfortable hold to love gives her something to hang on to.
Break point Sharapova...
Li responds with a fantastic forehand across the court after dominating the point.
We're locked at deuce here in a very important game in the match.
A really strong attempt from Sharapova for the break, but Li shows fantastic composure at deuce to win the game. We're with serve in this set.
Sharapova is finding things much more comfortable on her serve. She holds to 15, despite a double fault. The next break is crucial in this one.
Sharapova gets herself into Li's next service game with a big forehand for 40-30, but Li again holds and is just fending off the Russian at the moment.
Li has taken Sharapova's serve to deuce after forcing the Russian into putting a forehand long.
BREAK! Na gets the break! Really strong play once she got to deuce and that could be the beginning of the end of this one. Sharapova simply must respond.
Li winning points even when her shots aren't quite as expected. She slices a backhand to the middle of the court but Sharapova nets.
Li moves to 40-15 with her first ace of the match.
The Russian pulls it to deuce after a wide and a long shot from Li.
Break point Sharapova, with a thunderous cross-court backhand.
In the end it's a huge hold from Li to consolidate the break. She's been so strong here and instead of crumbling at break point down turns the pressure into an advantage. Two games away from reaching the final.
Another double fault from Sharapova brings Li to 0-30.
A poor shot from Li, who went down the line with a forehand instead of finding the empty court. Sharapova wins that point and takes the next with an ace to level the game.
BREAK! Li once again battle to deuce. It panics Sharapova, who puts a forehand well wide before wildly finding the net. Four games running for Li, who will now serve for the match.
What a performance to this point from Li. She's made a complete mockery of her underdog tag and now just has to get over that line.
Both players exchange big forehands, we're at 30-15 here.
GAME, SET AND MATCH!
She was a little more edgy, going wide with a forehand at match point, but Li does hold serve to reach her second Australian Open
What a brilliant showing from the Chinese! She has been irresistible and far too good for the second seed. Incredible stuff.
That about wraps up our coverage of the first women's semi-final. Thanks for joining me and look out for coverage Azarenka vs. Stephens soon.