Australian Open: Azarenka to face Li Na in the final
Victoria Azarenka will look to make it two consecutive Australian Opens on Saturday as she qualified for the final with a straight sets win over teenager Sloane Stephens. Her opponent will be Li Na, who made it to her second final after 2011 by easily defeating Maria Sharapova in her semi-final.
World number one and Australian Open holder Victoria Azarenka ended rising star Sloane Stephens’ run in a match which took just over an hour and forty minutes. Starting strong against a young, nervous opponent who had played a marathon in the previous round against Serena Williams, Azarenka quickly took control and raced into a 6-1, 2-0 lead.
But Stephens then started to show her mettle, perhaps encouraged by Azarenka’s hurting knee and affected movement. Breaking back, Stephens matched Azarenka point for point, finally free from the pressure which had hindered her first set.
Drama then made its introduction as Azarenka called for the trainer when leading 5-4 in the second set. A nine minute interruption then took place, where Azarenka complained of having trouble breathing. Nerves were seemingly getting the most of the world number one, but she was determined to end the match as soon as possible, especially after having five match points saved by the plucky American in the previous game. Azarenka was finally free to celebrate after she converted her sixth match point.
She will have to be on top of her game if she wants to hold on to her title. Indeed, Li Na quickly dispatched world number two Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 to reach her second final after 2011.
Aggressive and determined, the Chinese world number five constantly tested the Russian and forced her into an uncharacteristic number of errors, notably 17 on her backhand, normally one of Sharapova’s best shots. Li Na broke Sharapova’s first service game and never looked back, dictating play from the back of the court and denying Sharapova any chance of taking control of a match quickly beyond her reach.
It was a major disappointment for Sharapova, who had come into her semi-final having lost only nine games in five matches. But Li Na’s determination was of another level, and she will look to add a second Grand Slam to her name after Roland Garros in 2011.
And, with Azarenka clearly showing mental frailties despite progressing to the final, Li Na will be confident of finally beating the Belarusian after losing her last four matches against the world number one. Surely there is no better occasion to change that run than in an Australian Open final.
Baptiste Reynaud, sports correspondent