x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Australian Open: Li Na refuses to judge Victoria Azarenka

But ahead of their women's final, the Chinese star says she will not take a medical timeout at the crucial stage of a match like the Belarusian world No 1 did in the semi-finals.

China's Li Na has had a perfect build-up to the Australian Open final. Greg Wood / AFP
China's Li Na has had a perfect build-up to the Australian Open final. Greg Wood / AFP

Li Na declined to pass judgment on Victoria Azarenka's controversial medical timeout during her Australian Open semi-final match, but said she would not do it herself when match points were at stake.

Defending champion Azarenka was accused of gamesmanship by former players and pundits for taking a nearly 10-minute medical timeout after blowing five match points in her 6-1, 6-4 semi-final defeat of American Sloane Stephens on Thursday. The Belarusian No 1 seed denied the charge, however, saying a rib injury had led to breathing difficulties during the tense phase of the match.

Asked whether a medical timeout was appropriate when match points were in play, Li said: "You know, everyone is different. Because for me, I would never use that. But I don't know how [it is with] another athlete or another player because everyone is different. I couldn't say, 'Oh, it's wrong' or 'it's right'."

Li will play Azarenka for the women's trophy tomorrow, with both players bidding for their second grand slam title in their second final at Melbourne Park.

Azarenka said she is eager to forget about Thursday's drama and wants to focus on her bid to retain the title.

"Tomorrow is another day," she said. "I'm really happy to defend my title. That's my goal. Actually, not to defend, to win the tournament. I've put myself into position to give it the best shot there is. I'm really looking forward to it."

Compared to the controversy surrounding Azarenka's semi-final, No 6 seed Li has had the perfect build-up and heads into the final full of confidence after trouncing last year's runner-up, Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 6-2 in her last clash.

Li had one hand on the trophy in her 2011 final after taking the first set against Belgian Kim Clijsters, but crumbled under the pressure and took out her frustrations on rowdy Chinese spectators in the stands.

"I think this time I'm better able to handle things, because the last time was, after all, my first in a grand slam final," Li said.

"Possibly everyone thought it was just an impossible task, or something that I didn't dare to think about. So amid all that attention, maybe I didn't really focus on myself enough."

Months after her 2011 disappointment, Li captured her sole grand slam title at the French Open, but spent a frustrating period failing to get past the fourth round at the majors until her surprising resurgence at Melbourne Park this week.

Li has credited her coach Carlos Rodriguez, who guided Belgian Justine Henin to seven grand slam titles, for helping her to recapture the belief in her game. She said having the Argentine in her corner could only help against Azarenka.

"Last time, for my team also, it was the first time to be [in] the final, so nobody tells me what I should do on the court," she said.

"This time it's a different story. Carlos, before, was coaching Justine, so he has a lot of experience for the final ... So I think [it] should be OK this time."


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