As of Saturday night, Victoria Azarenka has become the eighth woman to have successfully defended her Australian Open title.
Following a difficult past couple of days with having to deal with the controversy regarding the circumstances surrounding her medical timeout during her semifinal match against 19-year-old Sloane Stephens, Azarenka was sure to be intent on regaining the respect of the public.
“I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and the focus that I can,” Azarenka said in a post-match interview.
“It just motivates me to be a better player.”
The world No. 1 began the final with highly aggressive play, launching heavy drives to establish an early break, however, an equally aggressive Li Na was quick to ensure an immediate break back to level the score to 1-1.
After delivering a strong service game, Li followed through with her offensive play to claim a successive break to lead 3-1.
Azarenka fought hard to break back, producing several fierce forehand drives, however Li did not allow the Belrusian to revel in this small achievement for too long, sending a magnificent backhand down the line to consolidate the break to lead 4-2.
Constantly forcing Azarenka forward and away from her comfort zone at the baseline, Li held serve 5-2.
While in a relatively comfortable position, Li was broken once again by the unrelenting world No. 1 who deflected Li’s driving forehands.
On the fourth set-point opportunity for the Chinese, Azarenka double faulted to hand Li Na the first set 6-4.
Collecting herself relatively quickly following this initial loss, Azarenka pressured Li’s service games to establish a double break to lead 3-0.
Shortly after Li managed to gain hold of a break at 3-1, the Chinese suffered a devastating ankle injury which halted play as the medical staff strapped her left foot.
Li Na displayed amazing courage to win the first point upon returning to the court, as though the injury had provided her with an even more profound sense of determination.
It became apparent, however, that Li’s serve was to suffer as she found it increasingly difficult to apply pressure to her left ankle; two double faults at 4-2 sending Azarenka to an easy 40-15 lead.
Astonishingly, the Chinese continued to exhibit remarkable movement on court, given her injury, as she took command of a number of rally points to break back and level the score to 4-4.
Having cut down her unforced errors significantly during the second set, Azarenka broke ahead 5-4 to serve for the set, delivering a stellar ‘love’ service game to clinch the second set 6-4; sending the match into a decider as the women secured one set apiece.
The final set gave rise to several more interruptions with play being paused momentarily for the Australia Day firework display and yet another medical timeout being required as Li rolled her ankle once again.
Despite moving slightly more stiffly on court, Li simply laughed off the injury and while her service games continued to suffer, she often pressured Azarenka’s serve to deuce and forced the world No. 1 to really work for each point.
Azarenka performed well under pressure, setting up points for her signature forehand winners and broke Li’s serve to clinch the match 4-6 6-4 6-3, defending her title as the Australian Open women’s champion.
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