Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/9/14

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 27: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus plays a backhand in her quarterfinal match against Serena Williams of the United States of America during day ten of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, Australia — Victoria Azarenka had to endure some anxious moments before and after her win over American teenager Sloane Stephens. Li Na wasn’t flustered at all in an easy victory over No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova. The result is that Li will play for the Australian Open title against Azarenka, who ended Stephens’ unexpected run to the semifinals that included a quarterfinal upset of 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. Another player who had little trouble Thursday was defending champion Novak Djokovic, who looked like he was conducting a tennis clinic in overpowering No. 4 David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in just 1 hour, 29 minutes. “I played perfectly,” he said in a post-match TV interview. “I played incredible tennis.” Djokovic will attempt to win his third consecutive Australian Open when he plays the winner of Friday’s semifinal between Roger Federer and Andy Murray in Sunday’s championship match. While Li’s 6-2, 6-2 win over Sharapova, who set a tournament record in dropping only nine games in five matches en route to the semis, never appeared in doubt on Thursday, Azarenka added some drama in the second semifinal on Rod Laver Arena. Azarenka needed six match points to finish off a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Stephens that included a medical timeout after the American broke her serve to pull within 5-3 in the second set. After leaving the court for medical attention, the Belarusian returned to break Stephens’ serve to end the match. “Well, I almost did the choke of the year,” Azarenka told an on-court interviewer immediately after the match. “At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn’t close it out.” Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported that Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries. “I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I’m one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure,” Azarenka said. The 23-year-old Belarusian’s on-court comments after the match led to speculation about the timing of her medical timeout. She didn’t help herself in a second television interview after the match that suggested the pressure of trying to close out the match was getting to her. “I couldn’t breathe. I had chest pains,” she said. “It was like I was getting a heart attack. After that it wasn’t my best, but it’s important to overcome this little bit of a struggle and win the match.” In her official post-match news conference — more than an hour after she finished playing — Azarenka felt a need to explain her comments immediately after the match. “I think I just really misunderstood what [the on-court interviewer] asked me because the question was I had few difficulties and why I went off,” Azarenka said. “I completely thought of a different thing, why I couldn’t close out of match, you know, that I had few difficulties. “So I understand the whole situation right now, but it just really [is a] simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess it was my bad.” Pressed again to explain her earlier TV comments, Azarenka said: “I did say that. I did say I couldn’t breathe. It was locked. That came from my back. “ Stephens didn’t think the timing of the medical break affected the outcome of the match. “It’s happened before. Last match, match before, I’ve had people going for medical breaks, going to the bathroom,” she said. “Didn’t affect me. Just another something else that happens.” The temperature hit 97 degrees during the second women’s semifinal, slightly hotter than it had been when Li beat Sharapova to reach the Australian Open final for the second time in three years. The semifinal started badly for the 25-year-old Russian, serving double-faults to lose the first two points and conceding a break in the first game. Li was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters at Melbourne Park in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way. The crowd got behind Li early in the match, yelling “Come on, Li Na!” and others yelling “Jia You!” which is “Come on” in Chinese. After she broke Sharapova to take a 5-2 lead, the Chinese fans in the crowd shook Chinese flags and shouted again, “Jia You!” “I don’t know what happened, [but] I always play well here, so thanks guys,” said Li, who was playing her third Australian Open semifinal in four years. “I just came to the court feeling like, `OK, just do it.’” Li’s coach, Carlos Rodriguez, who worked with retired seven-time major winner Justine Henin, pumped his fist over his heart after Li won the game. Sharapova had control in her next service game, but Li scrambled from side to side and pushed the reigning French Open champion to go for the lines, getting a series of unforced errors and another break. The sixth-seeded Li has been working since August with Rodriguez, and credits him with reviving her career with a renewed emphasis on condition. “I’m happy. I know I have a tough coach, a tough physio,” Li said, looking across to the stands and adding: “You don’t need to push me anymore. I will push myself.” Sharapova, who lost the 2012 Australian final in straight sets to Azarenka, admitted it was hard to get into the match against Li. “She was certainly much more aggressive than I was, dictating the play. I was always on the defense,” said Sharapova, who could have gained the No. 1 ranking by reaching the Australian final. Djokovic was stretched to five sets in a 5-hour, 2-minute fourth-round match against Stanislaw Wawrinka, then lost a set against Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. But the hard-serving Djokovic was at his sublime best on Thursday night, converting all of seven break-point chances while not facing any on his serve. Now unbeaten in five Grand Slam head-to-heads with Ferrer, he allowed his opponent only four points in the first four games of the last set. “I felt very comfortable and very confident from the start,” he said. “I wanted to be aggressive on the court. This is definitely one of the best performances I ever had in my career.” Ferrer double-faulted to set up match point, then lost the match on the following point when he floated a backhand long. The Spaniard was pleased to have made it as far as he did in the tournament. “I prefer to play worse in a semifinal than in the first round,” Ferrer said. “Of course, I am not happy with my game tonight, but this is tennis.” With such a light workout during his match, Djokovic went back out to center court at Rod Laver Arena an hour later during a legends doubles match involving his friend, retired Frenchman Henri Leconte. To much laughter from the crowd, Djokovic, dressed in a mock medical costume, pretended to give Leconte treatment at the side of the court. Later, he was all business while talking about the final against either Federer or Murray. “It can only do positive things to my confidence at this stage of the tournament,” Djokovic said of his easy win. “I have a great feeling about myself at the moment.” Photo via Facebook/Sloane Stephens
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

James Harden wants some help in the backcourt

Lightning reach Stanley Cup Final with Game 7 win

Devon Still: Daughter has complications with transplant

Rivers denies report of problems with CP3 and Jordan

Orlando Magic hope Skiles can right sinking ship

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Falcons waive Shembo over animal cruelty charges

Report: Tom Brady’s suspension appeal hearing set for June 23

Peterson is wrong (sorta): NFL players have great power

Scout: A-Rod 'looks like he doesn't give a (expletive)'

Belichick mum on Deflategate in first remarks since discipline

Dwight Howard suspended for first game of 2015-16 season

Four former first-round picks playing for their NFL careers

NBA Finals: Cavs-Warriors lacks easy comparison and that's great

10 NFL storylines that headlined the past week

Blackhawks-Ducks Game 7 preview: Key players, prediction

Women’s World Cup power rankings: Which teams have the best shot at hoisting the trophy?

NBA Finals: A series 39 years in the making

WATCH: San Diego State player steals home to seal win

St. Thomas pitcher Ben Ancheff takes internet by storm

WATCH: Josh Hamilton hits first two homers of the season

Did Andrew Bogut take a shot at Mark Jackson?

$70 million Reebok deal is bad for UFC fighters

If the Warriors win the NBA title, the parade will be for Oakland

Tennis News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Lightning reach Stanley Cup Final with Game 7 win

Devon Still's daughter has complications with transplant

$70M Reebok deal is bad for UFC fighters

If the Warriors win the title, the parade will be for Oakland

Peterson is wrong (sorta): NFL players have great power

Dwight Howard suspended for first game of 2015-16 season

Four QBs set to take step back in 2015

Spelling Bee co-champ wears LeBron jersey under shirt

Top 10 stories from 2015 NBA Playoffs

Rangers-Lightning Game 7 preview

The can't-miss Prince Fielder

Chip Kelly: Tebow is a quarterback

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.