Sloane Stephens’ remarkable run here at the Australian Open finally came to an end today.
Twenty-four hours after knocking out Serena Williams, the American teenager struggled to cope with the power of Victoria Azarenka, who won their semi-final 6-1, 6-4. In Saturday’s final Azarenka will face China’s Li Na, who surprised Maria Sharapova with an emphatic 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Azarenka won despite injuries to her left knee and ribs and what seemed to be a panic attack when she failed to take five match points when serving for the match at 5-3. The world No 1 took a medical time-out but recovered her composure to break Stephens in the following game. “I almost did the choke of the year,” Azarenka admitted afterwards.
Sharapova, who lost to Azarenka in last year’s final, had dropped only nine games in her first five matches, but Li offered a much stiffer challenge and knocked the Russian out of her stride with her consistent hitting. Li will be playing in her second final here, having lost to Kim Clijsters two years ago.