Azarenka ousts Stephens in straights, but not without drama

by: AP | January 23, 2013

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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Defending champion Victoria Azarenka has advanced to the Australian Open final with a 6-1, 6-4 win over 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens.

Azarenka wasted five match points in the ninth game of the second set, then took a medical time out for what appeared to be a back or shoulder injury. She had hurt her left ankle earlier in the set. She returned to win the match on her sixth match point, breaking Stephens' serve in the final game.

Azarenka admitted she was nervous at 5-3, and "I almost did the choke of the year!"

Stephens was an upset winner over 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Azarenka will play 2011 French Open champion Li Na in Saturday night's final at Rod Laver Arena. Li earlier Thursday beat Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2.

Sharapova was the heavy favorite after conceding only nine games in her first five matches, a record at the Australian Open since it expanded to a 128-player draw in 1988.

But the semifinal started badly for the 25-year-old Russian, who served double-faults to lose the first two points and conceded a break in the first game.

Li had the backing of the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, where dozens of red and white Chinese flags swirled in a light breeze, and where the temperature topped 93 degree during the first of the semifinals.

Li was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters in Melbourne in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way.

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