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Azarenka Defies Li To Defend AO Title, Bryans Win 13th Major

Victoria Azarenka defended her Australian Open title and the No. 1 ranking with a dramatic three set win over Li Na in Saturday's finals.

By Erik Gudris

Victoria Azarenka Australian Open (January 26, 2013) -- Victoria Azarenka fought past a determined opponent and a rowdy, sometimes hostile crowd on Rod Laver Arena to secure her second Australian Open title and retain her No. 1 ranking.

It was clear that top seed Azarenka was not the favorite, at least for those in attendance at Rod Laver Arena, as she was greeted with only a polite reception while her opponent, China's Li Na, earned a hearty roar from the capacity crowd.

Both women got off to a patchy start in the opening set with each trading breaks of serves. But it was Li who found her groove early especially on her improved forehand side. Though she missed an easy sitter at the net that would have given her a 4-1 lead, Li kept in front to find herself at 5-4.

Azarenka fought off several set points with some of her own trademark winners, but a double fault from the top seed gave Li the set 6-4.

After going down a quick double break in the second set, Li regained her stride by hitting another forehand winner to break serve for 1-3. But in the next game while trying to make a quick adjustment, Li tweaked her left ankle and fell on the court. Li took a medical time out to have her foot taped and then came back out to pull within two games of the title.

But a wild error-filled game from Li handed Azarenka yet another break of serve for 5-4. Azarenka, in her best service game so far, held to love to nab the set 6-4 and force a decider.

The final set featured even more drama when at 2-1, both players had to take an extended ten minute break as a nearby fireworks display as part of the nation's Australia Day celebrations commenced. When the women returned to action, Li fell again, this time hitting her head on the court in the process.

Li, after being checked out again by medical staff, resumed play looking none the worse after her fall. But Li's forehand, that had earned her multiple winners, starting spewing errors while Azarenka lifted her game.

Azarenka broke serve and soon held a 5-3 lead. The No. 1 put pressure on Li's next service game with deep returns and soon held match point. Li sent a final backhand long, her 57th unforced error, and that was it.

Azarenka, with her 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory, became just the eighth woman in the Open era to repeat as AO champion. An emotional Azarenka sobbed into her towel as she waited for the trophy ceremony, perhaps a reaction to dealing with the worldwide negative backlash she garnered after she took a controversial medical time out in her semifinal against Sloane Stephens.

Li, despite coming short again in the final, remained positive. "Yeah, of course a little bit sad when I lost to the final.  But if looking beginning of the year until now, I still have to proud for myself.  I mean, I really feeling I was back to the tennis court again, yeah.  So, yeah, wish have very good result for 2013."

"You know, I never thought about it this way.  My mentality was to come and try to win another title," Azarenka said when asked about defending her title. "That was my main goal.  It was definitely not easy with all the attention, you know, with all the press around.  But it was definitely new experience for me that I think I handled quite well, and I can only learn from this experience and moved on forward and try to improve as a player and as a person, as well."


(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve)


 

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