Australian glory for Azarenka
11:37am Saturday 26th January 2013 in © Press Association 2014
Victoria Azarenka successfully defended her Australian Open title - and retained the number one world ranking - after hitting back to beat a battered and bruised Li Na in three sets at the Rod Laver Arena.
A final low on quality but high on drama was claimed by the Belarusian 4-6 6-4 6-3 as Li's hopes of becoming the first Asian player to win in Melbourne were dashed. Twice the Chinese had to call for the trainer.
Roared on by a partisan crowd, she battled on bravely but, despite her best efforts, she was unable to prevent Azarenka from claiming the trophy and hold off Serena Williams at the rankings summit.
They exchanged early breaks before Li held and then broke again for 3-1. Azarenka hit back after Li missed a routine drive volley on game point, but she was still struggling on serve and the Chinese took advantage again. Li held, as did Azarenka for the first time in the match to force her opponent to serve it out at 5-3.
The sixth seed wobbled, making numerous unforced errors, to gift Azarenka the game but she hit back impressively. Preying on Azarenka's serving struggles, Li set up four set points and eventually claimed it as the 23-year-old tossed in a double fault.
At the start of the second, Azarenka broke for 1-0, held comfortably, and then broke again for 3-0. A woeful game slowed the Belarusian's momentum before Li was in trouble and her trainer then administered seven minutes of treatment on her left angle - when she returned she starting hitting winners from all angles to get it back to 2-3.
She then set up three break points at 0-40 for 3-3 but put an easy backhand into the net, allowing Azarenka to rattle off five points to hold. Azarenka was also proving profligate on break-point chances, with two coming and going before Li held to keep just one game behind at 3-4, and she managed to draw level as Azarenka put a routine forehand beyond the baseline.
Li promptly undid all her hard work by playing a sloppy game, culminating in a mis-hit backhand on break point as Azarenka sensed her chance. And she took it to claim the set and take the match to a decider.
The world number one remained on the front foot as the third set got under way, breaking for an early advantage, but Li drew level at 1-1. In the first point following the resumption, Li was down again, tumbling over on the same ankle before hitting her head on the hard surface.
Azarenka broke for 3-2 and swiftly made it 4-2 with one of her best games on serve in the match. Li had a chance to draw level at 4-4 only to push a backhand return beyond the baseline, and it proved to be her final opportunity as Azarenka held and then broke to claim her second successive Melbourne crown.