Tearful Victoria Azarenka trumps ailing Li Na in Melbourne to retain Australian Open title
The Belarusian won her second Slam title but ceded the crowd's sympathy to the injured Chinese
During the on-court presentations here last night following Victoria Azarenka's 4-6 6-4 6-3 victory in the final over an injured Li Na, Sandy Roberts, the master of ceremonies, beckoned the runner-up to come forward. “She's battered and bruised and quite possibly buggered,” Roberts announced to the world.
At least Roberts's succinct assessment summed up Li's night. The fact that the 30-year-old Chinese had run Azarenka so close was remarkable considering her physical woes. Forty-eight hours after Azarenka's controversial medical time-out in her semi-final victory over Sloane Stephens, it was Li who had to send for the trainer twice, though this time nobody doubted the world No 6's motives in seeking help.
After taking the first set, Li was 3-1 down in the second when she fell heavily, turning her left ankle after being wrong-footed. Given her evident pain and the strapping that a trainer applied to the ankle, it was a surprise that she played as well as she did on the resumption.
Despite losing the second set, Li was 2-1 up in the decider when her ankle gave way again. This time she hit her head on the court surface after falling and momentarily blacked out. Following another medical time-out, Li again played with admirable spirit, only for Azarenka to take charge in the closing stages.
Li said afterwards: "I was thinking: how many years have I not been falling down on the court? It was amazing today. It happened twice."
If the quality of the tennis was patchy, it was still a remarkable final, with the loser of the first set winning the match for only the second time in the past 26 Australian Open finals. Azarenka successfully defended her title and her world No 1 ranking with admirable resolve given that the vast majority of the crowd in Rod Laver Arena were on Li's side.
Not only is the Chinese a big crowd favourite here, but Azarenka had also become a target for the jeer-leaders following her victory over Stephens, when her motives for taking a medical time-out just before her American opponent served to stay in the match were widely questioned.
Li's winners were greeted with cheers, while Azarenka's were sometimes met with near-silence. Even at the end the applause for the two-time champion was decidedly muted.
"You have to go through rough patches to achieve great things," Azarenka said afterwards. "It's been tough but I am happy here right now. There were new experiences for me in the last couple of days. I have to say thanks to my team for being so supportive."
The world No 1 said she had expected even worse from the crowd. "But what can you do?" she said. "You just have to go out and play your tennis. It was definitely not easy with all the attention, with all the press around.
"But it was definitely a new experience for me that I think I handled quite well. I can only learn from this experience and move forward and try to improve as a player and as a person."
She added: "Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis. Unfortunate things happened to her, but that's sport. I'm just happy that with 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."
The match featured 16 breaks of serve and many more unforced errors than winners. Li led on both counts, striking 36 winners to Azarenka's 18 but making 57 errors to the Belarusian's 28. There were some exceptional baseline rallies, with Li's backhand a particularly potent weapon, but Azarenka's greater consistency proved decisive. At the end Azarenka sat on a chair and sobbed into a towel before going over to celebrate with her entourage.
Even before Roberts's colourful address in the presentation ceremony – which at least was not as embarrassing as the time he introduced the 1981 Miss Australia Leanne Dick as "Leanne Cock" – television executives were probably shuddering at the words of Redfoo, Azarenka's boyfriend.
Leaning over to grab her hand, and with television microphones capturing every word, the American singer told her: "I love you, baby. You're fucking amazing." They were not the best-chosen words but the sentiment was understandable.
American twins Bob and Mike Bryan became the most successful men's pair in Grand Slam history yesterday when they won their 13th doubles title together at the Australian Open.
The 34-year-olds beat the Dutch pairing of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3 6-4 to break the record of 12 Grand Slams they had shared with the Australians John Newcombe and Tony Roche.
The left-handed Bob served out for victory to seal their sixth Australian Open title together, their 84th career title and their second consecutive Grand Slam after their win at the US Open in September.
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