Li the crowd favourite af­ter Azarenka drama

Weekend Witness - - Sport -

MEL­BOURNE — Li Na is ex­pected to re­ceive the lion’s share of crowd sup­port in the Aus­tralian Open fi­nal to­day af­ter Vic­to­ria Azarenka was ac­cused of stoop­ing to games­man­ship to reach the ti­tle match.

China’s Li has con­sis­tently stated that Mel­bourne Park makes her feel at home, but world num­ber one Azarenka’s re­la­tion­ship with pa­trons in­side the Rod Laver Arena has al­ways been un­easy.

She has been jeered in the past for her trade­mark shrieks while hit­ting the ball and her tri­umph in the semi­fi­nal against Sloane Stephens was marred by a con­tro­ver­sial med­i­cal timeout at a cru­cial stage.

Azarenka lost five match points while drop­ping her serve at 5-3 in the sec­ond set. When she com­pleted her 6-1, 6-4 win af­ter ex­tended of­f­court treat­ment from the doc­tor, there was only a smat­ter­ing of ap­plause.

And the 23-year-old was sternly crit­i­cised in Aus­tralian news­pa­pers on Fri­day. “Let’s hope she loses the fi­nal,” wrote The Aus­tralian. “Aza bad call,” was the head­line in the Her­ald-Sun. “Be­yond A Choke,” was on the front page of The Age. “Azarenka’s cheat­ing ain’t no choke,” said the Daily Tele­graph.

Azarenka claimed a mis­un­der­stand­ing dur­ing a post-match in­ter­view led to the be­lief she had left the court be­cause she was pan­ick­ing. She was adamant that rib trou­bles had caused a short­age of breath and back pain. “To­mor­row is an­other day,” Azarenka said.

“I’m really happy to de­fend my ti­tle. That’s my goal. Ac­tu­ally, not to de­fend, to win the tour­na­ment. I’ve put my­self into po­si­tion to give it the best shot there is. I’m really look­ing for­ward to it.”

Li de­clined to cast judg­ment. “I’m not her, so I don’t know the truth,” she told re­porters. “I mean, I also wasn’t on the court to see, so I couldn’t say any­thing.

“She called a doc­tor on the court. If the doc­tor say she needs to go out of the court, she should fol­low the doc­tor, right?“

Both Li and Azarenka are at­tempt­ing to shed their tags of oneSlam won­ders.

The in-form, su­per-fit Li is con­test­ing her first ma­jor fi­nal since her his­tory-mak­ing vic­tory at the French Open in 2011, when she be­came the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tle.

Azarenka must de­feat Li to re­tain top spot ahead of Amer­ica’s Ser­ena Wil­liams. Li said she would be more re­laxed than she was dur­ing her first fi­nal. “This time, I’m more calmed down. More cool, a lit­tle bit,” she said. — Sapa-AFP.

PHOTO: AP

China's Li Na (pic­tured) is likely to be the crowd favourite for to­day’s Aus­tralian Open fi­nal against Vic­to­ria Azarenka.

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