Li Na the crowd favourite after Victoria Azarenka drama
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Li Na is expected to receive the lion's share of crowd support in the Australian Open final Saturday after Victoria Azarenka was accused of stooping to games manship to reach the title match.
China's Li has consistently stated that Melbourne Park makes her feel at home, but world number one Azarenka's relationship with patrons inside Rod Laver Arena has always been uneasy.
She has been jeered in the past for her trademark shrieks while hitting the ball, and her triumph in the semi-final against Sloane Stephens was marred by a controversial medical timeout at a crucial stage.
Azarenka lost five match points while dropping her serve at 5-3 in the second set. When she completed her 6-1, 6-4 win after extended off-court treatment from the doctor, there was only a smattering of applause.
And the 23-year-old was sternly criticised in Australian
newspapers on Friday. "Let's hope she loses the final," wrote The Australian. "Aza bad call," was the headline in the Herald-Sun. "Beyond A Choke," was on the front page of The Age. "Azarenka's cheating ain't no choke," said The Daily Telegraph.
Azarenka claimed a misunderstanding during a post-match interview led to the belief she had left the court because she was panicking. She was adamant that rib troubles had caused a shortage of breath and back pain.
"Tomorrow is another day," Azarenka 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."
Li declined to cast judgment. "I'm not her, so I don't know the truth," she told reporters. "I mean, I also wasn't on the court to see, so I couldn't say anything. "She called a doctor on the court. If the doctor say she needs to go out of the court, she should follow the doctor, right?"