Melbourne, Australia (4E Sports) – Top seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka and No. 6 Li Na sealed their Australian Open title clash after hurdling semifinal foes Thursday at Melbourne Park.
Azarenka survived a late surge from Sloane Stephens en route to a 6-1, 6-4 victory, moving a win away from successfully defending her crown.
Li, for her part, used her solid serves, impressive speed and ferocious groundstrokes to upset second seed Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 6-2.
Azarenka cruised to an easy victory in the first set in just 33 minutes and took a 2-0 lead in the second set.
Then, Stephens displayed the form that carried her to a huge quarterfinal win over No. 3 Serena Williams, to tie the set at two.
However, Azarenka pulled away to a 5-3 lead before closing out the win.
Azarenka made her third Grand Slam final, having won the Australian Open last year and finishing runner-up at the US Open last year.
“I’m really hungry to defend my title. That was my first goal – actually, not to defend, it was to win the tournament. I’ve put myself in the position to give it the best shot there is, being in the final,” Azarenka said.
“She’s in incredible form right now, really,” Azarenka said. “In the finals anything can happen. It looks like she has improved a lot. It will be a tough match,” she said of Li.
Li had 21 winners and just 18 unforced errors to finish the match in one hour and 33 minutes. Sharapova’s game was a bit off, hitting just 17 winners to 32 unforced mistakes.
“In the beginning of the match I was nervous – I was happy to come to the semis again, but for some reason I really wanted to win this match,” Li said after the win. “I don’t know what happened today. I just came to the court feeling like, ‘Okay, just do it.’ Yeah.”