Victoria Azarenka kept her eye firmly on the prize despite a host of distractions to rally from a set down and retain her title with victory over Li Na in a dramatic Australian Open final yesterday.
The Belarusian had to block out an often blatantly hostile crowd, sit through two lengthy time-outs for Li’s injuries and bide her time as a firework display lit up Melbourne’s skyline before she finally extinguished her Chinese rival’s hopes with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory. Li twice needed treatment after heavy falls – the second time blacking out momentarily after banging her head on the court. Azarenka looked stunned and then relieved at the end of the 160-minute contest when she realised had won her second grand slam title, ensuring she would retain the No.1 world ranking to boot.
Even in her moment of triumph, however, the lukewarm response of the crowd on Rod Laver Arena was a reminder of the controversy surrounding her semi-final win over Sloane Stephens, when she took a lengthy medical time-out after blowing five match points. “This one is way more emotional,” said Azarenka. “It’s gonna be extra special for me, for sure… you’re the only one who knows what you’ve been going through these two weeks. So it’s definitely an emotional one and it’s going to be special.”
If the 16 service breaks and a high unforced error count – Li had 57 – meant the match was not one for the real purists, there were some fine rallies and it lacked nothing in incident. Azarenka’s controversial actions in her victory over American Stephens – which left the Belarusian fending off allegations of gamesmanship – clearly won her few friends in Melbourne and there was no doubt who was the crowd favourite.
Former French Open champion Li had been roared on to court like a local hopeful and every point she won was greeted with huge applause, even on the many occasions that it derived from a Azarenka error. One voice from the crowd shouted: “C’mon Sloane”, while another responded to the Belarusian’s trademark grunts by shouting: “Quiet please, Azarenka”.
“I was expecting way worse honestly,” claimed Azarenka.
American twins Bob and Mike Bryan later won their 13th major doubles title, beating the Dutch pairing of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4 and breaking the record of 12 grand slams they had shared with Australians John Newcombe and Tony Roche.