By Jaclyn Stacey
(January 24, 2013) MELBOURNE PARK, Australia – Victoria Azarenka halted the absorbing run of young American Sloane Stephens in the semifinals of the Australian Open on Thursday, defeating her 6-1, 6-4 in one hour and 41 minutes in the notorious Melbourne heat.
Stephens had been riding on a high after shocking the tennis world on Wednesday by defeating 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. Against Azarenka she didn’t play badly but was simply overpowered by the world No. 1 and hit too many unforced errors.
Azarenka raced to a 6-1 first set lead in the match by breaking the young American in the first, fifth and seventh games of the set.
The second set was a much more competitive affair as Stephens kept up with the world No. 1 early on. The two swapped breaks on several occasions before Azarenka managed to get ahead 5-3.
Azarenka attempted to serve for the match in the next game but squandered five match point opportunities. Stephens capitalized on her third break point opportunity in the game by hitting a striking forehand to level the match.
Azarenka then called for the trainer and was taken off the court for a controversial medical time out. When she came back on court it was Stephens who was having trouble closing a game and made a backhand unforced error on match point down to give Azarenka the spot in the final.
In the on court interview Azarenka gave the impression that she had taken the medical time out in the second set due to a panic attack. She refuted the comments in her press conference.
“You know what, I think I just really misunderstood what she asked me because the question was I had few difficulties and why I went off. 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 simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess it was my bad.”
“I mean, I’m experienced enough to go over those emotions. But when you cannot breathe, when something’s really blocking you, the stress, that was the stress I was talking about. I just couldn’t realize what was going on with me.”
“I couldn’t breathe; I couldn’t swing. I think it was pretty obvious that my shots were a little bit different. “
“Because as the trainer explained to me and the doctor explained to me after, when the rib blocks, it blocks your diaphragm and you can’t breathe. I’m not a doctor to explain that.”
Azarenka keeps her title defense on track with the win and will face an in-form Li Na in the final on Saturday.
“I think she’s in incredible form right now really. You know, in the finals anything can happen. It looks like she improved a lot. Will be a tough match, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Jaclyn Stacey is a Melbourne based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open tournament as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her Australian Open updates on @TennisNewsTPN. Follow her personal twitter @JackattackAU.