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Azarenka's relief at winning fairly
Darren Walton
15:32 AEST Sun Jan 27 2013

Cast as the villain, Victoria Azarenka admits a Li Na mid-match retirement would have been a nightmare way to retain her Australian Open crown and world No.1 ranking.

Azarenka successfully defended her title on Saturday night with a 4-6 6-4 6-3 victory over Li in the most dramatic women's final seen at Melbourne Park.

Twice Li appeared set to forfeit, the second time after suffering suspected concussion in a heavy fall while leading 2-1 in the tense deciding set.

While the hugely popular Chinese trailblazer received a rousing reception before the final, Azarenka had entered Rod Laver Arena as Public Enemy No.1 following her controversial medical timeout immediately after blowing five match points in her semi-final victory over American teenager Sloane Stephens.

A hollow final win would have been a PR disaster for the top seed and Azarenka on Sunday conceded she feared the worst when tournament doctors were treating Li for a second time.

"It would be the worst probably victory for me," Azarenka told AAP.

"Nobody ever wants to win that way. It's horrible, really, and I'm just glad that after what happened that she was okay.

"I never hoped for that, but I think like a flashlight it crosses your mind.

"But you have to really just get over it because it's the finals and everybody will just die on the court until they retire."

Ironically, given the backlash the Belarusian felt after her semi-final, Azarenka said Li's troubles unsettled her.

"You cannot not feel bad for a person. When someone gets hurt, it's always bad," she said.

"And first time she fell, she was limping and I was thinking 'oh my god, what's going to happen?'.

"So I kind of forgot a little but that I'm in the match and I have to fight.

"She came out and started hitting winners and I didn't know what to do. I felt bad to start moving her a little bit, so it threw me.

"But I quickly realised that I had to go back in because she's such an incredible fighter; through the pain and everything she was battling hard.

"There was a lot of drama."

Had Azarenka lost, the 23-year-old would also have relinquished her top ranking to Wimbledon, US Open and Olympic champion Serena Williams.

Instead, she joined Williams (17), Venus Williams (7), Maria Sharapova (4) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2) as the only active players with multiple grand slam titles.

"It's a very honoured club to be in," Azarenka said.

"To be in the same list with all those champions, it's a privilege and right now it's kid of hard to believe that because I think of myself as a nine-year-old girl playing against the wall, picturing these big moments, and right now I'm actually living those moments.

"It's like a dream."

Li, turning 31 next month, had been bidding to become the oldest woman to win the Open, a scenario that would have removed Australian great Margaret Smith Court from a page in the record books.

Instead lightning struck twice for the 2011 French Open champion.

Only twice in the past 26 women's grand slam finals has a player squandered a one-set advantage - and it was Li both times.

China's first and only major singles champion also led Kim Clijsters by a set to love in the 2011 final at Melbourne Park.

But she vowed to return to try again.

"I know I'm not young, but I have to say I'm very (much) looking forward to next year," Li said.


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