She has been far from her persistent best at this Sydney Start for factors that stay uncertain, and she predicted to be welcomed with anger after an psychological two times in which she was commonly belittled for looking for treatment at a critical stage of her semifinal success over the United states youngster Sloane Stephens.
But as it was at Rod Laver Field, Li Na was the finalist who was in for the more stressful night, and in a momentum-swinging last disturbed by fireworks and, yes, more healthcare timeouts, Victoria Azarenka efficiently protected her headline by rallying to win, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Li, the 30-year-old China celebrity who was also a finalist here this season, converted her rearfoot twice and even said she blacked out for a second after the returning of her go criticized onto the judge beginning in the third set after her second crash.
“Maybe if I’m not dropping down, it’s another tale,” Li said of her beat. “You never know. But the truth: I was dropping down, so nothing can modify.”
The victory allowed Azarenka, a globe-trotting 23-year-old from Belarus, to retain the No. 1 ranking ahead of Serena Williams, and it was testimony to Azarenka’s powers of resilience and concentration considering all the disruptions and negative energy coming her way on and off the court last week.
“She’s solid, she’s tough,” her coach, Sam Sumyk, said. “I know that, and I knew that before. I wasn’t really worried about that part.
“We sat up and spoke about this last night. I’m not looking for credit, but our conclusion was, let’s do everything we can to let the racket talk.”
When it was over, Azarenka dropped that racket, eyes wide, and was soon on her chair sobbing into a towel after shaking hands with Li, who shed a few tears of her own before and after her typically lighthearted visit to the interview room.
“It’s been a long match, it’s been a tough match,” Azarenka said. “Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis. Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that’s sport. But I’m just happy that everything I went through, I still could manage to give my best and really come out there and try to focus on my game and play tennis that I can produce. And that’s the thing I love to do, is to compete.”
Azarenka’s baseline-hugging power game is the near-perfect fit for the true-bouncing, hardcourt version of the sport. And this victory, which required 2 hours 40 minutes, allowed Azarenka to join an elite club. She is the fifth active women’s player with more than one Grand Slam singles title. The others: Serena Williams with 15; Venus Williams, 7; Maria Sharapova, 4; and Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2.
Azarenka dropped a set to Jamie Hampton of the United States in the third round and then lost her composure against Stephens.
With Stephens about to serve to stay in the match at 4-5 in the second set, Azarenka was treated during a changeover after complaining of breathing problems. She was eventually taken off the court for a medical timeout that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Stephens’s coach, David Nainkin, later suggested that Azarenka had “bent” the rules to shift the momentum.
Others were skeptical, too, including Patrick McEnroe, the ESPN analyst who is also the head of the United States Tennis Association’s player development program. On Twitter, McEnroe called the break an “absolute travesty.”
Sumyk said he was infuriated by McEnroe’s comment. “I think someone like Patrick McEnroe should be a little more responsible, courageous and smarter for sure,” Sumyk said.
Azarenka, while accepting blame for the timing of the medical timeout, insisted that she was suffering not just from nerves, but from a legitimate injury: a rib problem that she was told was affecting her breathing. She spent some of her rest day Friday making the news media rounds in an attempt to re-emphasize that she had not fabricated an injury or intentionally disrupted Stephens’s rhythm.