Azarenka: This one is more emotional
Originally published on: 27/01/13 00:00
As Azarenka sat crying into her towel after successfully defending her Australian Open title, you got the sense that the tears were shed in relief as much as joy. The world No.1, who faced a storm of criticism after her controversial medical time out against Sloane Stephens in the semi-final, saw off Li and her army of supporters inside Rod Laver Arena 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a drama-filled two hours and 40 minutes of play.
“It isn't easy,” Azarenka responded when asked if it was difficult to stay focused after the fallout from the Stephens match. “But I knew what I had to do. I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me. And that's pretty much it.
“I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can. It just motivates me to be a better player.”
The world No.1 had to contend with a series of delays throughout the course of the match. The first occurred when Li called the trainer after appearing to roll her ankle in the second set, the second was a 9-minute break in play as fireworks celebrating Australia Day lit up the sky, and no sooner had the players returned to the court when Li was forced into another medical timeout after hitting her head off the ground at the beginning of the third.
“Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis,” Azarenka said. “Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that's sport. I feel really happy right now. It's been a long match. It's been a tough match.”
Azarenka’s win in Melbourne secured her position as the world No.1. The Belorussian was at risk of losing the top spot, which she has owned for the best part of a year, when the tournament began but she admits it wasn’t something she was focusing on.
“I never thought about the No. 1 ranking,” said the Australian Open champion. “The pressure was there, but I like the pressure, you know. It's interesting. It's a very interesting thing. It pushes you to be better. You can take it [a] different way. You can take it negative and try to, you know, think negative. But I take it as a positive, something that will push me forward to improve, to get better, and the outcome is out of my hands. I just have to be really focused on what I do, very honest with what I do, and that's it.”
So how does this title compare to her maiden victory at last year’s event? “I don't know,” she said. “It's a completely different mix of feelings. This one is way more emotional. It's gonna be extra special for me, for sure. I never compare my wins or losses ever in any tournaments. It's just a matter of the feeling that you get, things you've been through, because you're the only one who knows what you've been going through these two weeks.
“So it's definitely an emotional one and it's going to be special.”