Victoria Azarenka successfully defended her Australian Open crown with a 4-6 6-4 6-3 win over a wounded Li Na at Melbourne Park.
Victoria Azarenka successfully defended her Australian Open crown with a 4-6 6-4 6-3 win over a wounded Li Na on Saturday at Melbourne Park.
Li took an opening set that featured seven breaks of serve, only for Azarenka to fight back and level the match after Li had rolled her ankle attempting to change direction midway through the second set.
The Chinese sixth seed injured her left ankle for a second time on the first point after a nine-minute delay for fireworks that marked Australia Day, hitting the back of her head on the court as she lost her footing.
But despite Li's gallant decision to continue, Azarenka had the answers when it mattered to overwhelm her opponent and win five of the last six games to prevail in two hours and 40 minutes.
The difference in the end would prove to be Azarenka's far better conversion of break points, grabbing nine from 12 chances while Li managed seven from 18 opportunities.
Li easily won the winners count with 36 to 18 but paid the price for playing far more aggressively as 57 unforced errors to 28 proved her undoing as she lost the Melbourne Park decider for the second time in three years.
Unfortunately for Li, she has now twice suffered defeat in the Australian Open final after winning the first set, having also done so against Kim Clijsters two years ago.
The match started with a Li double fault and she would surrender her serve with an unforced error but within moments was level at 1-1 after Azarenka netted a backhand.
Li was first to hold serve and opened up a 3-1 lead when the Belarusian dropped serve for a second time.
But the unsteadiness continued as firstly Li was broken for a second time after missing a smash at 40-30 and then Azarenka failed to hold for a third.
Li held to love to lead 5-2 before Azarenka finally managed to hold as well and she then jumped all over Li's serve to amazingly get the set back on serve. But the 10th game would prove pivotal.
Li earned her first set point when she brutally dealt with a tame Azarenka second serve for 30-40 but the top seed managed to save it and two more before she followed an unforced forehand error with a double fault to concede the set.
Azarenka raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set courtesy of back-to-back breaks, the first when Li netted a backhand and the second thanks to another error from her opponent.
But Li lifted in the fourth game to retrieve one of the breaks.
In the fifth game Li would injure her ankle for the first time but won the next five points in a row upon resumption to not only hold serve but then pressure Azarenka at 0-40 in the sixth game.
Azarenka responded with five points of her own in succession to hold for 4-2 but after Li saved a break point and then held, she broke again for 4-4, only for yet another momentum shift as Azarenka broke and then served out the set in 58 minutes on the back of four straight Li errors.
For the third time in the match Azarenka broke Li to open the set but the Chinese hit back immediately and then held for 2-1, with the break for the fireworks following that third game before Li went down again.
After Azarenka won the next three games Li had further chances to break back but could not convert as the world number one capped her victory with the 57th of Li's unforced errors.