Victoria Azarenka had to endure some anxious moments before and after her win over American teenager Sloane Stephens. Li Na wasn’t flustered at all as she beat No 2-ranked Maria Sharapova.
The result is that Li will play for the Australian Open title against Azarenka, who ended an unexpected run to the semifinals by Stephens that included a quarterfinal upset win over 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
While Li’s 6-2, 6-2 win over Sharapova, who had dropped only nine games in five matches a tournament record en route to the semis, never appeared in doubt, Azarenka added some intrigue in the second semifinal on Rod Laver Arena. Azarenka finished off a 6-1, 6-4 over Stephens after a lengthy medical timeout for a rib injury which hindered her breathing.
It was far from straightforward for the top seed, however, who wasted five match points and suffered a fitness scare before emerging a controversial 6-1 6-4 victor. Stephens’ victory over Serena Williams on Wednesday seemed to take its toll on the 19-year-old in the early stages but she grew into the contest and was starting to get on top before Azarenka limped over the line, aided by a medical time out at a vital juncture.
The Belarussian will meet Li Na in today’s final knowing she also needs to beat the Chinese to retain the number one ranking from Williams. But she has plenty to think about beforehand.
Not only did Azarenka buckle when almost in the winner’s circle she also cut a tetchy figure, frequently smashing balls all over the court in frustration at her inability to put the teenager away.
“I almost did the choke of the year,” she admitted. “At 5-3 and having so many chances I couldn’t close it out.
“I felt a little bit overwhelmed and realising I was one step away, nerves got into me.
“Until 5-3 I was very happy with my performance and after that it wasn’t my best but it’s important to overcome this struggle and finish the match.”