Australian Open: Victoria Azarenka overcomes controversy to triumph
Victoria Azarenka took extra satisfaction from beating Li Na to retain her Australian Open title after coming through a controversial build-up to the final.
The world number one prevailed 4-6 6-4 6-3 in two hours and 40 minutes to win her second Grand Slam title.
Azarenka had been accused of gamesmanship in some quarters after taking a medical timeout late in her semi-final against Sloane Stephens.
The issue led to a media grilling and the 23-year-old went on a round of interviews before the final to get across her side of the story – that the timeout had been purely for medical reasons.
“It isn’t easy, that’s for sure, but I knew what I had to do,” said Azarenka. “I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me. And that’s pretty much it.
“I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can. It just motivates me to be a better player.”
With the issue featuring heavily in local newspapers and sports bulletins, and up against the popular Li Na, it was no surprise that the majority of the crowd were supporting her opponent.
“That’s what it was all about. It’s a tennis match, tennis battle, final of the Australian Open. I was there to play that.
“The things that happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, to do everything I could, and it was left behind me already.
“So when I went into the match, I was really focused on trying to play that particular match, the most important match of the tournament. That one thing that I just have to go and do, and that’s it.”
Li missed out in the Melbourne final for the second time, having lost to Kim Clijsters two years ago, and she suffered two heavy falls in the process.
The 30-year-old required her ankle to be taped after the first and revealed that she blacked out momentarily after hitting her head when falling a second time.
She insisted the effect on her game had been “not too much, maybe just like five seconds I was feeling it a little bit”, but added: “I was a little bit worried when I was falling down.
“Because for two seconds I couldn’t really see anything. It was totally black. So when the physio come, she was like, ‘Focus on my finger.’ I started laughing. I was thinking, ‘This is a tennis court, not like hospital.’”
The second tumble came immediately after a nine-minute break in play for the local Australia Day fireworks, but Li said that had not been a factor.
Whether the falls cost her victory remained open to question.
“Maybe if I’m not falling down, it’s another story,” said Li. “You never know. But the truth, I was falling down, so nothing can change.”
Azarenka added: “I feel really happy right now. It’s been a long match. It’s been a tough match. Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis.
“Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that’s sport.”