MELBOURNE, Australia — Victoria Azarenka overcame a sore left ankle, some anxiety and a slew of frustrating forehand errors before fending off American teenager Sloane Stephens to reach the Australian Open final against Li Na.
For the second time in two days, the 19-year-old Stephens sat patiently on a courtside chair during a medical timeout by an experienced, older player late in the second set.
Today, the top-seeded Azarenka returned to finish off a 6-1, 6-4 win on her sixth match point. It had been a different outcome Wednesday, when Stephens rallied from a set and a break down to beat an injured Serena Williams in three sets.
Azarenka said in an on-court interview that she “almost did the choke of the year" when she wasted five match points on serve at 5-3 in the second, mostly with unforced errors on her forehand.
She went to the locker room for medical treatment after dropping that game, then returned to break the 29th-seeded Stephens’ serve to finish off the match.
The 23-year-old Azarenka later said the treatment was for chest pain.
“I couldn’t breathe. I had chest pains," she said. “It was like I was getting a heart attack."
The temperature hit 97 degrees during the second women’s semifinal, slightly hotter than it had been when Li Na beat No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 to reach the Australian Open final for the second time in three years.
Sharapova was the heavy favorite after conceding only nine games in her first five matches, a record at the Australian Open.
But the semifinal started badly for the 25-year-old Russian, serving double-faults to lose the first two points and conceding a break in the first game.
Li was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters at Melbourne Park in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way.
In the men’s draw, top-ranked Novak Djokovic will continue his bid for a third consecutive Australian title when he takes on No. 4 David Ferrer today. No. 2 Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray will meet Friday.