Victoria Azarenka is the number one player in the world and she repeated as champion of the Australian Open by defeating Li Na by a score of 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. A routine sounding result for a match that was thick with controversy and conflict.
The uneasiness was the result of Azarenka’s earlier match where most observers felt she pulled a fast one in her previous semi-final victory over Sloane Stephens.
Simply put, Azarenka took a 10 minute timeout for a very questionable reason. It came in a point in the match where Azarenka was in the lead but looked to be losing control. When she came back, any momentum that Stephens had was lost and the No. 1 player came away with the victory.
After the match, Azarenka told an interviewer that she "almost did the choke of the year." This started a PR disaster where Azarenka is being charged with gamesmanship and taking advantage of the rules to bail out of a panic attack. The Belarusian claims she was having breathing problems due to a rib injury.
China’s Li Na was clearly the crowd favorite which was obvious by the crowd silence when Azarenka got a point. If that was not enough, announcers Pam Shriver and Chris Evert were constantly reminding the viewers.
The Grand Slam final tension was heightened even more by Li Na twisted her ankle and falling twice. The last fall was severe enough for the tournament doctor to test Li Na for a concussion. The Chinese star passed but could not hold off Azarenka and her aggressive play.
"I knew what I had to do," Azarenka said. "I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me."
And in the end, Azarenka repeated as the Australian Open champion and kept her top ranking. Even though the whole world might have been against Azarenka, she persisted and shrieked her way through a hostile environment.
"I was expecting way worse, to be honest. What can you do? You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day," she said. "It's a tennis match, tennis battle, final of the Australian Open. I was there to play that.
"The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, and it was left behind me already."
Maybe Azarenka feels “it was left behind,” but it might take the tennis world much longer to leave it behind.
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