Azarenka beats Li, defends Australian Open title
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Victoria Azarenka had the bulk of the crowd against her. The fireworks were fizzling out, and when she looked over the net she saw Li Na crashing to the court and almost knocking herself out.
Considering the cascading criticism she'd encountered after her previous win, Azarenka didn't need the focus of the Australian Open final to be on another medical timeout.
So after defending her title with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the sixth-seeded Li in one of the most unusual finals ever at Melbourne Park, Azarenka understandably dropped her racket and cried tears of relief late Saturday night.
She heaved as she sobbed into a towel beside the court, before regaining her composure to collect the trophy.
"It isn't easy, that's for sure, but I knew what I had to do," the 23-year-old Belarusian said. "I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me."
There were a lot of those things squeezed into the 2-hour, 40-minute match. Li, who was playing her second Australian Open final in three years, twisted her ankle and tumbled to the court in the second and third sets.
The second time was on the point immediately after a 10-minute delay for the Australia Day fireworks - a familiar fixture in downtown Melbourne on Jan. 26, but not usually coinciding with a final.
Li had been sitting in her chair during the break, while Azarenka jogged and swung her racket around before leaving the court to rub some liniment into her legs to keep warm.
The 30-year-old Chinese player had tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle and had it taped after falling in the fifth game of the second set. Immediately after the fireworks ceased, and with smoke still in the air, she twisted the ankle again, fell and hit the back of her head on the hard court.
The 2011 French Open champion was treated immediately by a tournament doctor and assessed for a concussion in another medical timeout before resuming the match.
"I think I was a little bit worried when I was falling," Li said, in her humorous, self-deprecating fashion. "Because two seconds I couldn't really see anything. It was totally black.
"So when the physio come, she was like, `Focus on my finger.' I was laughing. I was thinking, `This is tennis court, not like hospital.'"
Li's injury was obvious and attracted even more support for her from the 15,000-strong crowd.
Azarenka had generated some bad PR by taking a medical timeout after wasting five match points on her own serve in her semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens on Thursday. She came back after the break and finished off Stephens in the next game, later telling an on-court interviewer that she "almost did the choke of the year."
She was accused of gamesmanship and manipulating the rules to get time to regain her composure against Stephens, but defended herself by saying she actually was having difficulty breathing because of a rib injury that needed to be fixed.
That explanation didn't convince everybody. So when she walked onto Rod Laver Arena on Saturday, there were some people who booed, and others who heckled her or mimicked the distinctive hooting sound she makes when she hits the ball.
"Unfortunately, you have to go through some rough patches to achieve great things," she said. "That's what makes it so special for me. I went through that, and I'm still able to kiss that beautiful trophy."
She didn't hold a grudge.
"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."
The match contained plenty of nervy moments and tension, and 16 service breaks - nine for Li. But it also produced plenty of winners and bravery on big points.
Azarenka will retain the No. 1 ranking she's mostly held since her first Grand Slam win in Melbourne last year.
Li moved into the top five and is heartened by a recent trend of Australian runner-ups winning the French Open. She accomplished that in 2011, as did Ana Ivanovic (2008) and Maria Sharapova (2012).
"I wish I can do the same this year, as well," Li said.
Later Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan won their record 13th Grand Slam men's doubles title, defeating the Dutch team of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4.
Sunday's men's final features two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic and U.S. Open winner Andy Murray. Djokovic is seeking to become the first man in the Open era to win three titles in a row in Australia.
Azarenka was planning a night of partying to celebrate her second major title, with her friend Redfoo and the Party Rock crew, and was hopeful of scoring some tickets to the men's final.
She said she needed to let her hair down after a draining two weeks and hoped that by being more open and frank in recent times she was clearing up any misconceptions the public had of her.
"When I came first on the tour I kind of was lost a little bit," he said. "I didn't know how to open up my personality. It's very difficult when you're alone. I was independent since I was, you know, 10 years old. It was a little bit scary and I wouldn't show my personality.
"So the (last) couple of years I learned how to open up to people and to share the moments. I wasn't really good before. I hope I got better. It's your judgment."
Updated January 26, 2013
Kyle Arrington, filing in for Devin MCcourty, previews Pats-Broncos
Adam Schefter, ESPN Insider, joins the guys to talk Pats-Broncos, Brady-Manning and the rest of the NFL.
Mike Klis discusses Brady vs. Manning, Welker and Belichick, and the rest of the Pats-Broncos story lines.
Its time to start the season for the Celtics! We talk about the things we like about the Celtics and the things we dont like very much. Plus Sam feels like a jerk for laughing at Julius Randle.
Jackie MacMullan joins MFB for the first time this season. She discusses the rejection of NBA lottery reform, Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics chances this season.
Mut, Rob Bradford and Alex Speier are back and talking not only Red Sox, but MLB Hot Stove. They talk with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, and take some phone calls about some of the Red Sox potential moves.
Mut, Rob Bradford, and Alex Speier talk with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. Ben addresses some questions regarding Will Middlebrooks, Rusney Castillo, as well as Yoenis Cespedes' future with the club.
Joe Castiglione does his annual wrap-up of the season by reading the poem by Bart Giamatti.
We discuss the Bruins blown 2 goal lead against the Wild at the Garden and where they go from here with the great Jack Edwards of NESN.
NESN's Andy Brickley joined the show following Boston's 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Brick talked about Patrice Bergeron's line getting beat a lot, the Bruins' lack of focus in their 6 losses, and the big blow to the defense with Torey Krug's injury.
Joe McDonald joins the guys to talk to about the Chara injury and how the Bruins will move forward without him.
Happy birthday Kirk!!!!
The top stories of the day as recounted by Kirk Minihane.
The guys got dressed up for Kirk's 40th.
Three For All, Ebola Scare
Dale and Greg Dickerson try and find new and exciting ways to discuss Manning vs Brady 16, including how each QB fares in adverse weather conditions.
Dale and Greg Dickerson take a few minutes to remember Tom Menino.
We look at four free agents the Sox might have an eye on, two on the mound, two at third base.
Mikey, Villani and Lenny are talking about the 2004 Red Sox on the anniversary of Game 4 of the ALCS with Dave Roberts steal abd Bill Mueller driving him in and what it was like to witness.
Mikey, Mut and Lenny are talking about the Patriots and how they have stacked up through the years and what got them to the three championships and five Super Bowl appearances in the Brady-Belichick era.
Mikey and Mut take a call from someone who wants to criticize Belichick the GM and his history of drafting players and making moves in the draft.
The playoffs are here and we are ready! Brad Feldman joins the show to talk about the Revs vs the Crew. We also talk about the newest addition to the MLS.
WEEI.com’s Scott McLaughlin is joined by Joe Meloni of College Hockey News on the first episode of the College Puckcast. They talk about the wrist injury that will sideline Boston College defenseman Steve Santini until at least January, as well as the good start for Boston University and its star freshman, Jack Eichel. Other topics include fast starts for Vermont and UMass-Lowell and slow starts for Providence and Northeastern.
The top stories of the day as recounted by Kirk Minihane.More from this show