By Randy Walker
Shortly after Victoria Azarenka’s 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Li Na in the final of the 2013 Australian Open, Hall of Famer Pam Shriver, who called the final for ESPN, tweeted “we will not see a major final quite like this ever again.”
In a match that featured two injury time-outs from Li Na, for a turned left ankle and a turned right ankle/ head smash, a 10-minute delay due to Australia Day fireworks, and 16 service breaks, Azarenka won the second major singles title of her career, successfully defending her 2012 Australian title and holding on to the No. 1 world ranking.
The Australian crowd was firmly in favor of Li Na of China after Azarenka was dogged with allegations that she used gamesmanship in her semifinal win over Sloane Stephens two days earlier. Press reports were extremely critical of Azarenka who called for a medical timeout after failing to serve out the match against the 19-year-old Stephens after holding five match points and leading 6-1, 5-3. After receiving treatment for what she said was a rip injury, Azarenka then broke the Stephen’s serve the next game to advance into the final.
Li Na used the crowd support and her aggressive strong baseline play to take the first set 6-4. However, trailing 1-3, 30-30 in the second set, she tumbled to the ground with an apparent bad left ankle turn. She hobbled off the court where she was treated and had her ankle taped. While not appearing to affect her movement too severely (she won the first five points after the resumption of play), Azarenka, none-the-less, stepped up, hung on and secured the second set 6-4.
With Azarenka leading 2-1 in the final set, the match was delayed again by 10 minutes when the annual Australia Day fireworks alight the Melbourne sky. On the first point after the resumption of play, Li Na again rolled over her right ankle, falling badly on the court and banging her head on the hard court surface. The WTA trainer and Australian Open doctor actually conducted a preliminary concussion test before she returned to play.
Azarenka did not relent, committing only four unforced errors in the final set, pulling away from Li Na to win the title in two hours, 40 minutes.
After clinching victory – that was met with tepid, polite applause from the Australian crowd – Azarenka broke down in tears, sobbing into her towel sitting courtside. The tears seemed to be a mix of relief, joy and decompression from a stressful situation of having fans and media so critical of her behavior over the previous 48 hours.
Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim described Azarenka’s post-match demeanor as “an absolute scramble of emotions” saying that Azarenka was “very keyed in to what was going on the last 48 hours” and that she was “not insulated” from the negative perceptions she was receiving from her medial time-out.
“All the things that I have been through has just made me tougher,” Azarenka told Wertheim post-match on Tennis Channel. “I am glad that I was able to turn things around and still go out there and play competitive tennis. That’s what I live for and that’s what I love to do.”