• Australian Open, Day 11

Jittery Azarenka cuts down Stephens

ESPN staff
January 24, 2013

Victoria Azarenka powered her way into the final of the Australian Open by halting the brilliant run of United States teenager Sloane Stephens, but there was controversy towards the end of the contest.

Azarenka squandered five match points and promptly went off court for a lengthy injury timeout. She returned one game later to break Stephens and book her place in the final.

"At 5-3 having so many chances, couldn't close it out but I'm glad I could close it out," Azarenka said. "Nerves got into me for sure. It was important to overcome this struggle and finish this match."

Stephens announced herself on the world stage with her run to the last four, toppling the mighty Serena Williams in the process.

But defending champion Azarenka was in sizzling, ruthless form early on. The No. 1 seed did not allow her opponent to settle, hitting aggressively from the off and although Stephens improved in the second set - Azarenka had too much know-how and wrapped up a 6-1 6-4 win to set up a final clash with Li Na who beat Maria Sharapova in straight sets.

Stephens was overwhelmed by Williams in the first set of their quarter-final and it was a similar story against Azarenka. The Belarusian broke in the first game and then again to lead 5-1, with the depth of her strokes overwhelming the 19-year-old and enabling her to race through the opening set in 33 minutes.

It looked grim for Stephens when Azarenka converted the third of the break points she crafted at the start of the second set, but the youngster hit back immediately - drawing a huge roar of approval from the crowd who were packed together in the shade to keep out of the blistering heat.

Azarenka broke for a second time in the sixth game and then again in the eighth game, but on each occasion Stephens responded with breaks of her own. The crowd felt there may be a comeback in the same manner as her quarter-final, as Azarenka squandered five match points on her own serve in the ninth game.

Following the failure to convert match points, which Azarenka described as "almost the choke of the year!", she took an injury timeout and left the court for attention on back and chest problems. She was off court for 10 minutes, with Stephens left to ponder another service game to save the match.

Azarenka returned to fashion a sixth match point, which she took when Stephens missed with a backhand to ensure the No. 1 seed will get the chance to defend her title in the final.

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