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Live tennis commentary: 2013 Australian Open - day 11

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Victoria Azarenka put her side of the time-out brouhaha to the media, saying much of the storm was due to a ...
Victoria Azarenka put her side of the time-out brouhaha to the media, saying much of the storm was due to a misunderstanding minutes after her match. Photo: Pat Scala

A composed Victoria Azarenka has addressed accusations of gamesmanship which arose from her nine minute time-out late in the second set of her semi-final against Sloane Stephens on centre court today.

Azarenka says her rib locked, meaning she couldn't breathe, which caused her to panic, and she had to be treated off-court. She says her remarks on TV shortly after the match which made it appear she took the timeouts because she was upset by losing five match points in the previous game, were the result of a misunderstanding.

Azarenka says she wishes she had taken the time-out early in the match.

"It took me too long of a time to call the trainer, which was my bad. I had been struggling a little bit the whole match from the second set... I should have called the trainer a little earlier. It got to the point where I couldn't breathe and I had to go off court."

Azarenka said she needed to have her back manipulated so the rib freed, enabling her to breathe again.

She said she had rejected taking a second time-out for a slightly injured knee, (which wasn't "that big of a deal") and she was off-court for so long because that's how long it took the doctors to treat her.

"Is it my fault the doctor took so long?

"I don't doubt others who take time-outs."

Azarenka accepted that her post-match statements needed to be clarified.

"I feel like it had to be explained, the situation, I understand people not understanding what I had said. I'm here to make everything clear."

 

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Li Na on her fantastic semi-final victory today:

"After I was (playing) after 20 years, first time in my life, you know. Beginning of the match I was nervous. I was happy I came back to semis again, but for some reason I really want to win the match," she said.

"I don't know what happened today. Just came to the court, feeling like, OK, just do it."

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Rising star Sloane Stephens is not biting as the media searches for an angle on the Victoria Azarenka time-out criticism.

"Nothing, its happened before... the whole showdown... it didn't affect me.

"I wouldn't say what happened affected the match."

"Obviously it's for a reason," she said of Azarenka taking nine minutes out after botching five match points during their semi-final, then returning to win the next game, and the match.

It was reported that Azarenka claimed the symptoms of a panic attack, not a physical ailment. Did that bother Stephens?

"No, not really...it's just another something else that happens..."

She said if one of her friends had Azarenka's symptoms - shortness of breath etc, she would call it a 'PP': Personal Problem.

The refreshingly down-to-earth Stephens admitted that she had never taken a medical timeout, and wouldn't even know how to all for one.

"I did lose the next game, but I wouldn't say that's why I lost the game."

Stephens says she hasn't discussed the incident with Azarenka yet, but she was friendly with the Belarussian, they shared an agent, and she expected they would talk soon.

After breaking into the top 20 with her exploits in Australia, Stephens says she has momentum at the outset of the season.

"I think its going OK for me," she said, pleased with her first semi-final showing.

 

Sloane Stephens is not joining the ranks of those condemning Victoria Azarenka's 'panic attack' time-outs.
Sloane Stephens is not joining the ranks of those condemning Victoria Azarenka's 'panic attack' time-outs. Photo: Pat Scala
Victoria Azarenka leaves the court.
Victoria Azarenka leaves the court. Photo: Pat Scala

TODAY'S RESULTS:

  • Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1]  d Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 6-4. Semi-final.
  • Li Na (CHN) [6] v Maria Sharapova (RUS) [2], 6-2, 6-2. Semi-final
  • Bob Bryan (USA) / Mike Bryan (USA) [1] v Simone Bolelli (IA) / Fabio Fognini (ITA) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, Men's doubles semi-final

TALKING POINTS

The big story coming out of today's play is the contentious time-outs taken by Azarenka after she dropped serve, leaving behind five match points, late in the second set. With Stephens appearing to gain momentum, the frustrated Azarenka took two medical time-outs, leaving court for ten minutes. Upon her return, a refreshed Azarenka broke Stephens' serve to win the match. Azarenka had pulled up in pain in the third game of the second set, but had not been treated until after the dramatic ninth game. After the match, she did not directly address what her ailments were when asked in the post-match interview. Twitter has erupted with hostile responses to the 'gamesmanship' of taking timeouts at such a point in a match.

The brilliant performance of Li Na was the happier theme to emerge from Day 11. The Chinese star continued her love affair with Melbourne Park to reach her second Australian Open final, her counter-punching style too much for a determined, but wasteful Maria Sharapova. Li Na won nearly every rally that extended beyond a few points, her return of serve put Sharapova under pressure in nearly every service game, and her sizzling backhand proved a bigger weapon the harder the storied Russian hit the ball. Up against another big-hitter in the final, with the likely backing of the Melbourne crowd, Li Na has a big chance to take out her second grand slam title.

Women's singles final, 2013, Saturday night:
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v Li Na (CHN) [6]

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Victoria Azarenka, having just dropped a dramatic ninth game of the second set when serving for the match, is about to ...
Victoria Azarenka, having just dropped a dramatic ninth game of the second set when serving for the match, is about to depart centre court for ten minutes. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Reaction to Victoria Azarenka's contentious double medical time-outs is heated on Twitter. Not suprisingly, American fans have been the quickest to resort to poor language and emotive declarations after their countrywoman Sloane Stephens was knocked out by Azarenka. But it's fair to say most fans believe the timing of her extended break amounts to gamesmanship at best.

Colleague Greg Baum saw the storm brewing shortly after the game:

@GregBaum
Azarenka tells ESPN she left the court for 10 mins because she "couldn't breathe". Choking. Nothing about an injury. Wait for the storm. #AO

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Victoria Azarenka is treated after losing a game in which she had five match points. Shortly after, she left court for ...
Victoria Azarenka is treated after losing a game in which she had five match points. Shortly after, she left court for two medical time-outs lasting ten minutes. Photo: Pat Scala
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TODAY'S RESULTS:

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1]  d Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 6-4. Semi-final.

Li Na (CHN) [6] v Maria Sharapova (RUS) [2], 6-2, 6-2. Semi-final

Bob Bryan (USA) / Mike Bryan (USA) [1] v Simone Bolelli (IA) / Fabio Fognini (ITA) 6-4, 4-6, 6-1
Men's doubles semi-final

Women's singles final, 2013, Saturday night:
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v Li Na (CHN) [6]



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Victoria Azarenka has been installed a $1.55 favourite for the women's title with tab.com.au against Li Na ($2.50).

There is little doubt who the crowd will be baracking for - Li Na is an old favouite who was warmly received today. The crowd, and many commentators, were peeved at the timing of Azarenka's medical timeouts taken after she lost a service game when serving for the match in her semi-final against fairytale youngster Sloane Stephens.

 

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1]  d Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 6-4. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Stephens is undoubtedly a star of the future, and that future is close. She started slowly, made 42 unforced errors, many which she will grow out of with more experience, and struggled to hold her serve for the first set. But she also showed irresistible spirit and composure when facing defeat, fighting off five match points, and an ability to turn a match that appeared a foregone conclusion. 

Azarenka's main issue in defending her 2012 title appears above her shoulders. Her second serve is vulnerable, but most other elements are their peak - punishing groundstrokes, a powerful serve, and good court coverage. If she can manage her composure under pressure, she will be a formidable force to reckon with in the final.

The Belarussian appeared to be trying to show her more human side by admitting to nerves in her post-match interview, but her tactical use of a medical time-out, which arrested Stephens' momentum after the dramatic  ninth game of the second set, won her no friends. Asked directly what afflictions ailed her, she did not answer.

One thing is for sure. After the workout she received from Stephens in 35 degee heat, she will be hurting. The pain will feel good though, reminding her that she has earned a crack at another grand slam title with a superb tournament.

 


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Belarus's Victoria Azarenka felt the heat in the second set against Sloane Stephens.
Belarus's Victoria Azarenka felt the heat in the second set against Sloane Stephens. Photo: AFP

SERVICE BREAK

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v *Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 6-4. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Azarenka hangs tough when behind on Stephens' service, and a brilliant point moving around the baseline brings up a match point. On top in the rally, Stephens hits just long, and suddenly, it is all over.

Azarenka says "nerves got into her" and she almost committed the "choke of the year" when faced with the chance of making the final.

She receives muted applause from the big crowd.

Her vanquished opponent Stephens, forced to wait for ten minutes courtside while Azarenka took two 'medical time-outs' after dropping the ninth game, was farewelled by a thunderous reception.

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Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v *Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 5-4. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Sloane Stephens waits in 35 degree heat for Victoria Azarenka to return from her medical time-out, taken after she blew five match points, then her serve, in the ninth game of the second set.

Sloane Stephens refused to give in despite facing five macth points in her semi-final.
Sloane Stephens refused to give in despite facing five macth points in her semi-final. Photo: AFP

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v *Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 5-4. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

A dramatic ninth game saw Azarenka spurn five match points, and Stephens claim the game with her third break point. Now Azarenka calls for the doctor, who has been waiting for several games. Her back is twisted back and forth as she sits courtside, but the diagnosis remains elusive. 

Azarenka leaves the court for a medical time-out. She first showed signs of pain during the third game of the set.

When she returns, Stephens will be serving to level the match, with some momentum behind her after a bold rearguard action. Azarenka is hating playing someone who has 'nothing to lose'.

Serena Williams also hurt herself during the third game of the second set of her loss to Stephens yesterday, who later emphasised that she focuses on herself during such interruptions. 



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SERVICE BREAK

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v *Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 5-4. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Fifth match point for Azarenka, who was desperate enough to have ventured to the net on that point. Stephens' drive didn't make it over. She hits just wide with a big forehand, and chellenges the line call unsuccessfully.

Brilliant cross-court backhand pasing shot brings up break point number two for Stephens.

Azarenka is serve-volleying regularly now, and it pays off this time, Stephens hitting long with a lunging pasing shot. Deuce.

But she gets another break point straight away (No.3).

And an audacious change of direction forehand down the line wins the game for Stephens, and keeps her alive in the match, with games back on service.

*Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 5-3. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Stephens wins a point with a super forehand deep in a corner, but Azarenka's groundtstrokes are too consistent, and she brings up two match points.

Stephens, typically, fights it out, sending Azarenka side to side on the baseline before she nets a backhand.

Then a brutal, flat forehand induces another Azarenka error, and it is deuce. Stephens plays better the worse her situation.

Two match points saved.

In charge at the net, Stephens pushes her volley long. Third match point.

Azarenka inexplicably hits long on her third match point. She has appeared unhappy all match, despite leading throughout, and now lets out another shriek of frustration.

Stephens is better at the rearguard action than the winning cou e grace - she hits an attempted return into the crowd when holding break point.

And inevitably, an aggressive first serve brings a fourth match point for Azarenka.

And she nets a simple forehand!

SERVICE BREAK

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v *Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 5-3. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Azarenka prises open another break point chance with a vicious backhand across court at 15-30. Brilliant baseline scrambling on the subsequent point enables Stephens to make a simple unforced error which delivers Azarenka the game, and a chance to serve for a place in the final.

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SERVICE BREAK

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v *Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 4-3. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Every time it seems Sloane Stephens's Australian Open dream run is coming to an end, she produces something unexpected. She hit hard to get to deuce in that game, then hit the shots she had to as Azarenka imploded with consecutive double-faults, and a 100 decibel scream of frustation. Games back on service in the second set.

Azarenka appeared agitated long before the crowd picked up she was in any trouble. The mob is strongly behind the underdog.

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Asked whether she thought she had missed an opportunity with Serena Williams out of the tournament, by losing to Li Na today, Maria Sharapova was unequivocal.

"Absolutely not. I think champions want to face the best. That's what makes the sport exciting and fun. You always want to be facing the best in the sport. If somebody's afraid to go out and face that challenge, then it's not really a good quality, you know.

"I love going out and competing against the best in the world. You know, today was Li Na. Saturday I'm not playing, so it doesn't really matter who lost the other day or not."

Sharapova said Li Na had been a step ahead of her all game, and her failure to convert her own chances meant she was never in the game.

"She always had a little bit of the edge. From the beginning, she was up a break. That's why I said I don't think I gave her much to think about because she was always playing ahead, and that's tough because you have an opponent that's playing well and aggressive and confident tennis."

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*Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 4-2. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Stephens is broken to love, in less than two minutes. That was a surprise in the second set - in the first, it was to be epected. The lapse gifts Azarenka a chance at victory just when Stephens looked to building some momentum. She had Azarenka 15-30 in her last service game, after winning two games in succession.

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 3-2. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

The doctor is lurking, awaiting a call from Azarenka, who appeared keen to get through her points quickly in that successful service game. Just what the injury is we canot yet ascertain, but it has not hampered her hugely in the past two games.

Stephens is the highest-ranked player Azarenka has faced at this championship. Stephens is expected to reach the top-20 on the back of this ground-breaking tournament. Win, and she could go as high as 12.

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] v Sloane Stephens (USA) [29], 6-1, 2-2. Semi-final, Rod Laver Arena.

Once again, Azarenka betrays signs of soreness after chasing down a groundstroke.

Stephens is settling better the longer the match goes, exactly as she did in her quarter-final. That was a much more asured service game, about her only one not to go to deuce.

Hot work on centre court. Sloane Stephens faces 35 degree temperatures during her match with Victoria Azarenka.
Hot work on centre court. Sloane Stephens faces 35 degree temperatures during her match with Victoria Azarenka. Photo: Getty Images
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