Azarenka Bucks Critics, Takes 2nd Straight Title

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hugs her trophy after winning the women's final against China's Li Na at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hugs her trophy after winning the women's final against China's Li Na at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Melbourne, Australia — Victoria Azarenka had the bulk of the crowd against her. The fireworks were fizzling out, and when she looked over the net she saw Li Na crashing to the court and almost knocking herself out.

Considering the cascading criticism she’d encountered after her previous win, Azarenka didn’t need the focus of the Australian Open final to be on another medical timeout.

So after defending her title with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the sixth-seeded Li in one of the most unusual finals ever at Melbourne Park, Azarenka understandably dropped her racket and cried tears of relief late last night.

She heaved as she sobbed into a towel beside the court, before regaining her composure to collect the trophy.

“It isn’t easy, that’s for sure, but I knew what I had to do,” the 23-year-old Belarusian said. “I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me.”

There were a lot of those things squeezed into the 2-hour, 40-minute match. Li, who was playing her second Australian Open final in three years, twisted her ankle and tumbled to the court in the second and third sets.

The second time was on the point immediately after a 10-minute delay for the Australia Day fireworks — a familiar fixture in downtown Melbourne on Jan. 26, but not usually coinciding with a final.

Li had been sitting in her chair during the break, while Azarenka jogged and swung her racket around before leaving the court to rub some liniment into her legs to keep warm.

The 30-year-old Chinese player had tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle and had it taped after falling in the fifth game of the second set. Immediately after the fireworks ceased, and with smoke still in the air, she twisted the ankle again, fell and hit the back of her head on the hard court.

The 2011 French Open champion was treated immediately by a tournament doctor and assessed for a concussion in another medical timeout before resuming the match.

“I think I was a little bit worried when I was falling,” Li said, in her humorous, self-deprecating fashion. “Because two seconds I couldn’t really see anything. It was totally black.

“So when the physio come, she was like, ‘Focus on my finger.’ I was laughing. I was thinking, ‘This is tennis court, not like hospital.’ ”

Li’s injury was obvious and attracted even more support for her from the 15,000-strong crowd.

Azarenka had generated some bad PR by taking a medical timeout after wasting five match points on her own serve in her semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens on Thursday. She came back after the break and finished off Stephens in the next game, later telling an on-court interviewer that she “almost did the choke of the year.”

She was accused of gamesmanship and manipulating the rules to get time to regain her composure against Stephens, but defended herself by saying she actually was having difficulty breathing because of a rib injury that needed to be fixed.

That explanation didn’t convince everybody. So when she walked onto Rod Laver Arena yesterday, there were some people who booed, and others who heckled her or mimicked the distinctive hooting sound she makes when she hits the ball.

Bryans Win
Record 13th Title

Melbourne, Australia — Mike and Bob Bryan have set one more record together as a doubles team — and this may be the most special of them all.

The identical twins became the most decorated doubles team in Grand Slam history by winning their 13th major title at the Australian Open yesterday, beating the unseeded Dutch pair of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4 in 53 minutes.

The 34-year-old Americans had been tied with the Australian greats John Newcombe and Tony Roche with 12 major titles.

“To be a part of history is pretty special,” Mike Bryan said. “We weren’t thinking about it much out there, but now that we have it, it’s going to be fun to look back on our career and say we have the most Grand Slams.”

After converting their third match point, the brothers jumped in the air and bumped chests and then clapped their hands on their rackets to the several hundred fans who stayed in Rod Laver Arena after the women’s singles final.