independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tennis: Azarenka joins elite club after digging deep to retain title

Even if it was just for the benefit of photographers, Victoria Azarenka was still popping champagne bottles here yesterday morning following a long night of celebration.

Any Grand Slam title deserves a night out on the town, but for the 23-year-old Belarusian this was special. Beating Li Na 4-6 6-4 6-3 in Saturday's final not only gave Azarenka her second Major title and preserved her position at the top of the world rankings; it also demonstrated that she has the mental strength to win in the most testing of conditions.

Rarely can a Grand Slam final which did not feature a home player have been played in front of such a one-sided crowd.

While the crowd's bias had something to do with Li's popularity here, the bigger factor was the animosity towards Azarenka following her controversial semi-final victory over Sloane Stephens. Azarenka took a medical time-out just before Stephens served – unsuccessfully – to stay in the match.

Panic

Having initially talked about having a "panic attack", Azarenka later insisted that she had left the court because of a rib injury which was giving her trouble breathing.

The irony was that Li was the player who twice had to send for medical help during the final. The 30-year-old Chinese player injured an ankle in one fall and hit her head, momentarily blacking out, in another.

Azarenka lost the first set, but quickly took charge of the second and always looked the more likely winner from that moment onwards.

There were a remarkable 16 breaks of serve in the match, which was a reflection of the quality of both players' returns as much as their failings on serve.

Having won her second Grand Slam tournament, Azarenka becomes only the fifth currently active player to have won more than one Major title, joining Serena Williams (15 titles), Venus Williams (seven), Maria Sharapova (four) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (two). (© Independent News Service)

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