Australian Open tennis: Victoria Azarenka sees off Sloane Stephens in semi-final
Top seed Victoria Azarenka survived a crisis of confidence to beat Sloane Stephens in their Australian Open semi-final.
Last Updated: 24/01/13 2:37pm
The top seed and defending champion did have a huge scare though and was made to work hard as she squandered five match points and suffered a fitness scare before emerging with a controversial 6-1 6-4 victory.
Stephens' victory over Serena Williams seemed to take its toll on the 19-year-old in the early stages, but she grew into the contest and was starting to get on top before Azarenka limped over the line, aided by a medical time out at a vital juncture.
The Belarussian will meet Li Na in Saturday's final knowing she also needs to beat the Chinese to retain the number one ranking from Williams.
Not only did Azarenka buckle when almost in the winner's circle she also cut a tetchy figure, frequently smashing balls all over the court in frustration at her inability to put the teenager away.
Stephens, in her first grand slam semi-final, looked understandably nervous early on and Azarenka seized on her uncertainty by running through the opening two games.
The 29th seed finally got on the board thanks to a brilliant backhand winner in game three but she remained edgy and Azarenka broke for a second time to establish a 4-1 lead before taking the set.
Azarenka was cruising in the second set before the injury scare as she pulled up after chasing down a wide backhand with her left ankle the area of concern - and Stephens capitalised and broke back for 2-2.
Azarenka promptly embarked on a run of nine successive points which moved her to 4-2 only to toss away her advantage when two double faults and a mistimed backhand gifted Stephens a break back.
Serving at 5-3, the 2012 champion wobbled horribly and saw five match points come and go as Stephens fought bravely although she was helped by Azarenka's fragile mental state.
Then came the controversy as Azarenka took a near 10-minute medical time-out for an unspecified injury seemingly unrelated to her ankle.