Azarenka retains her Australian title with emotional victory over Li


TENNIS:After the tears and the explanations, Victoria Azarenka was expecting to be the finalist with the biggest obstacles to surmount on Saturday.

She has been far from her relentless best at this Australian Open for reasons that still remain unclear, and she expected to be greeted with hostility after an emotional two days in which she was widely criticized for seeking medical attention at a critical phase of her semi-final victory over the American teenager Sloane Stephens.

But as it turned out at Rod Laver Arena, Li Na was the finalist who was in for a traumatic evening in Rod Laver Arena, and in a momentum-swinging final interrupted by fireworks and, yes, more medical timeouts, Azarenka successfully defended her title by rallying to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Li, the 30-year-old Chinese star who was also a finalist here in 2011, twisted her ankle twice and even said she had blacked out for a moment after the back of her head slammed onto the court surface early in the third set, after her second tumble.

“Maybe if I’m not falling down, it’s another story,” Li said. “You never know. But the truth: I was falling down, so nothing can change.”

The victory allowed Azarenka, the globe-trotting 23-year-old from Belarus, to retain the number one ranking ahead of Serena Williams, and it was testimony to Azarenka’s powers of resilience and concentration considering all the disruptions and negative energy coming her way on and off court last week.

“She’s solid, she’s tough,” her coach, Sam Sumyk, said. “I know that, and I knew that before. Our conclusion was, let’s do everything we can to let the racket talk.”

When it was over, Azarenka dropped that racket, eyes wide, and was soon on her chair sobbing into a towel after shaking hands with Li, who shed a few tears of her own before and after her typically lighthearted visit to the interview room.

Great tennis

“It’s been a long match, it’s been a tough match,” Azarenka said. “Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis. Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that’s sport. But I’m just happy that everything I went through, I still could manage to give my best and really come out there and try to focus on my game and play tennis that I can produce.”

There were 16 service breaks, with Li losing nine. Both women finished with many more unforced errors than winners. But on an unsteady night, Azarenka was the less inconsistent force, making 18 winners and 28 unforced errors to Li’s 36 winners and 57 unforced errors.

The match changed complexion with Azarenka leading by 3-1 and Li serving at 15-30 in the second set. After a swing volley from Azarenka, Li tried to shift direction quickly. Her left ankle gave way, and she went down quickly, her racket clattering on the court as she winced and rolled onto her back.

New York Times

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