Li, Azarenka set for Australian Open final
- Published: 26/01/2013 at 04:45 AM
- Online news:
China's Li Na will take on world number one Victoria Azarenka as she attempts to win her second Grand Slam trophy in the Australian Open women's final on Saturday.
China's Li Na celebrates her victory in the women's singles semi-final against Russia's Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open in Melbourne on January 24, 2013. Li will take on world number one Victoria Azarenka as she attempts to win her second Grand Slam trophy in the Australian Open women's final on Saturday.
Li, 30, has been in inspired form over the past fortnight, running through four seeds including Russia's four-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova on the way to her second Melbourne final.
In 2011, the Wuhan native made history on Rod Laver Arena as Asia's first Grand Slam finalist, and later that year she went one step further to become the continent's first and only major singles champion at the French Open.
The feisty right-hander, rated as the world's second-richest sportswoman by Forbes magazine, has not seriously challenged for a major title since but she is enjoying a renaissance under her new coach Carlos Rodriguez.
"Last time was more exciting, I was more nervous," said Li, who stands to become the tournament's oldest women's champion. "It was my first time to be in a (Grand Slam) final. This time, I'm more calm. More cool, a little bit."
Standing in her way is Azarenka, 23, the tall Belarusian who is defending her only Grand Slam title to date, and will extend her nearly year-long stay at the top ranking with victory over Li.
Buoyed by her win over Sharapova in last year's final, Azarenka put together a 26-match winning streak at the start of the season and narrowly lost to Serena Williams in September's gripping US Open decider.
Azarenka has been an unmissable presence in Melbourne, partly because of her trademark shriek when she hits the ball and also because she has been accompanied by colourful LMFAO frontman Redfoo.
But she courted controversy in her semi-final against teenager Sloane Stephens when she blew five match points and immediately went off for a medical timeout. When she returned, she broke Stephens to win the match.
"It was a necessary thing for me to do," Azarenka said of the timeout, which she took for rib and knee problems.
"I just regret that I didn't take it earlier, that it got to the point that it was pretty much impossible for me to breathe and to play."
Azarenka leads their head-to-head 5-4 but she has won their last four matches. The last time Li beat the Belarusian was at the 2011 French Open, when she won in the quarter-finals en route to the trophy.
"At least this year we didn't meet," Li said. "So this is a new start. Last year she was doing well all year. It is not easy. It is a tough match. I just have to enjoy the moment."
Cool conditions and possible showers are forecast for Melbourne on Saturday, with the final scheduled to get underway at 7:30 pm (0830 GMT).
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency