Holder Victoria Azarenka can probably deal with a few less distractions as her Saturday final with China’s Li Na approaches at the Australian Open.
The top seed will play with her number one ranking on the line -- she must win the title to retain it -- and the echoes of a controversial semifinal win over Sloane Stephens are still ringing in her ears.
Azarenka missed on five match points and then took a medical timeout, claiming injury. That locker room visit with the doctor took 10 minutes in the closing stages and was viewed by many as blatant violation of gamesmanship.
With Azarenka changing her injury story from late-match panic/breathing attack to a complex explanation of a back injury which required a medical rib adjustment, the Belarus player will do well to just concentrate on her game at this point when comes to court against fellow grand slam winner Li.
There 30-year-old Chinese claimed the French Open title in 2011 and tuned up for that breakthrough by playing the Melbourne final four months earlier against Kim Clijsters.
Azarenka says winning again would mean a lot.
“I’m really hungry to defend my title, that was my first, you know, goal. Actually, not to defend, to win the tournament,” she said.
“I’ve put myself in the position to give it the best shot there is -- being in the final. I’m really looking forward to it. But the ranking, right now I’m not really thinking about it.” The top seed said that Li is in “incredible form right now really.
In the finals anything can happen. It looks like she improved a lot.
It will be a tough match.” Azarenka knows she’s not going up against a neophyte when the plays the Asian rival whom she has defeated in their last four meetings.
“She’s been in a final, she’s won a Grand Slam also, she has the experience.” The jovial and quirky Li, a fresh sporting icon in her nation of 1.3 billion after her Roland Garros title of two years ago, is entering her third Grand Slam final in as stress-free a state as possible.
“What I should worry about? I was working so hard in winter training. I think now is everything just back to me,” she said.
“So I come to the court, take the racquet, enjoy the tennis.” Li, who reached the decider in straight sets against Russian Maria Sharapova, called herself “really hungry about the title, yeah.
“It’s the first time I’m really near or close to the title. This time might be different or maybe same story. But I will try,” she said.
Keywords: Australia Open tennis championship