By Jane Voigt
January 25, 2013 — Victoria Azarenka and Li Na played one other time at The Australian Open, during the quarterfinals in 2011. Li Na won and went on to lose to Kim Clijsters. Tomorrow evening she will face Azarenka once again. But Saturday evening both women have a major title to their credit and are hungry to win a second.
Because they have played under the intense scrutiny of a slam final, their nerves should jitter less.
“Last time [in final] is, how you say, more exciting, nervous, because first time to be in final,” Li Na told the press today. “But I think this time more calmed down, more cool little bit … yeah.”
Both have improved their fitness and tennis. Both are tough mentally. Both smack the ball, move it around, and approach the net as much is necessary.
It’s true Azarenka has won their last four matches and leads head-to-head 5-4, and the circumstances tomorrow evening — air temperature, wind, nutrition, warm-up — will affect each woman differently. But the final’s outcome will not be influenced by a record.
“Hopefully, yeah,” Li Na said, when asked if she feels more experienced. “But, you know, for the final, you never know what happen on the court. So just come to the court to try.”
So what will make the difference?
We have come to a point where we ponder all things trifling.
Li Na is the biggest star in China, and Asia. Rod Laver Arena will be packed with fans. She is a funny woman and entertaining in press conferences. Her English has improved; and, whenever she is asked a question she is authentic in her desire to convey facts and emotions. She always ends with a smile.
Because of her work with new coach, Carlos Rodriguez, Li Na’s temperament during matches has evened out. No more tantrums. No more tirades at her box. She goes about her job, and seems to enjoy it.
On the other hand, Victoria Azarenka may be met by a stadium full of boos.
She is not well liked because of her ‘wooing’ and because of her attitude on court — persnickety. Additionally, she pulled a fast one in the semifinal against Sloane Stephens that spread a bitter cloud throughout the sports world.
She blew five match points at 5-3 in the second set, letting the new fan-favorite Stephens back into the match. At the changeover, Azarenka called for the trainer. They took two medical time outs. For what, no one knew at the time. She should have returned in six minutes, but didn’t for ten minutes. She broke Stephens and won the match.
In her on-court interview she told a packed stadium she almost had the biggest choke of her life at 5-3. That she was overwhelmed.
People were struck silent, applause was virtually non-existent after the interview. Are you kidding? She took a mental health break!
During the live ESPN interview, which closely followed her match, she never mentioned a problem with her back or rib. However, that’s the story she brought to the press room.
Azarenka faced a tough crowd, which attempted to clarify her stories.
“You attributed the not being able to breathe being pretty much directly to not converting the five match points in the game before,” one reporter began. “You said you had to take some time to get your mind together when you were going off court. This seems like a very different answer that you’re giving now.”
Azarenka apologized for the timing of her disappearance, but not the line about her back hurting and she had to get her rib ‘released’ so she could breath. “My bad,” she said repeatedly.
“I took it to the point where I couldn’t breathe, which was causing my back problem, and I couldn’t really figure out what was going on on the court,” she said, in her own defense. The fact that she wore a t-shirt that read ‘Kiss My Fast’ didn’t seem to endear her.
A few questions later, she said, “When you cannot breathe you start to panic. I was really panicking, not because I couldn’t convert on match point.”
Let’s speculate … Azarenka had a panic attack? Did she do it within the rules. Yes, seems so, because the doctor said she needed a time out. What he says during a match is golden. Chair umpires have to follow their lead.
This is Victoria Azarenka … tough and smug. If fans boo her as she walks onto the big final’s stage, she probably won’t hear it because she normally wears earbuds and a hoody … with the hood up.
In her box will be her constant-companion since the U. S. Open, Redfoo. He is hard to miss with a fuzzy mop of red hair (from-a-bottle red) and over-sized white speckled glasses he constantly pushes up his nose.
Redfoo is one of two members of an electronic music group that’s currently on hiatus. And, he is reportedly in love yet reframes from full disclosure. Instead, he alludes to her, “‘I don’t care who knows it. With a special one. I got a special one. A No. 1, if you will,'” reported yardbarker.com with FoxSports.com.
Azarenka is young … 22 years old. Li Na will be 32 in a couple weeks. Their age difference explains some things, but their personality characteristics point to opposing ends of a rainbow.
Azarenka was a bundle of histrionics as she played American Jamie Hampton early in the tournament. The American, ranked 86, handed the defending champ more than she could handle. Had her baffled.
Had Hampton not pulled her back, like legitimately pulled her back, Azarenka would have lost and we would be talking about a different opponent for Li Na.
Bottom line … either of these talents could win the title. It won’t matter to them what has transpired in prior matches or in the news or in the social media. They will lock down. Concentrate. Take their best shot. It just seems that Li Na will be a touch more calm and a bit more hungry, given her age.