Emotional Azarenka beats unlucky Li to retain Australian Open crown

Story highlights

  • World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka wins Australian Open title for the second year in a row
  • Belorussian beats crowd favorite and 2011 runner-up Li Na 4-6 6-4 6-3 in Melbourne
  • Li needs two medical breaks while final also disrupted by Australia Day fireworks
  • Azarenka holds onto the No. 1 ranking, denying Serena Williams top spot

A tearful Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title and world No. 1 ranking after overcoming crowd favorite Li Na in a dramatic women's final on Saturday.

The 23-year-old broke down as she celebrated her second grand slam title, denying her Chinese opponent her second after coming from behind to triumph 4-6 6-4 6-3 and claim the $2 million first prize.

The Belorussian went into the match having upset local fans after taking a controversial 10-minute medical break during a key point of her semifinal win over American teen Sloane Stephens, but this time she was forced to wait as Li twice had to receive lengthy treatment.

The match was also interrupted in the deciding set by a break for the traditional Australia Day fireworks.

Read: How women cracked tennis' glass ceiling

"It's been a real long two weeks," Azarenka said on-court after winning in two hours and 40 minutes. "I will always keep very special memories of this court. It will be in my heart forever."

Li Na upsets Sharapova
Li Na upsets Sharapova


    Li Na upsets Sharapova


Li Na upsets Sharapova 03:18
Sloane Stephens stuns Serena
Sloane Stephens stuns Serena


    Sloane Stephens stuns Serena


Sloane Stephens stuns Serena 01:08

Li, the losing finalist in 2011, raced to a 5-2 lead in the opening set as she made a strong bid to add to her French Open title that same year -- a breakthrough win that made her the first Asian female to win a grand slam singles title.

However, she was unable to show the same control that had allowed her to thrash world No. 2 Maria Sharapova in straight sets in the semifinals.

Azarenka led 3-0 in the second set, then sixth-ranked Li went over on her ankle after winning the next game.

It looked like it might bring the final to a premature end but the 30-year-old got back on court after having her foot strapped and reduced the deficit further.

However, Azarenka rallied to take the set and then broke Li's serve to lead 1-0 in the third set.

Li broke back and then led 2-1 before the fireworks started in celebration of 225 years since the first fleet of colonists arrived from the UK.

Read: The destiny of family man Djokovic

It was an inopportune break for Li, who again went over on her ankle and banged her head on the court as she tried to protect her damaged foot.

"For two seconds I couldn't really see anything. It was totally black," she told reporters.

"So when the physio come, she was like, 'Focus on my finger.' I started laughing. I was thinking, 'This is a tennis court, not a hospital.' She was like, 'Follow my finger,' because I didn't follow. I just watched the eyes. She says, 'Follow.' I say, 'Why? I'm okay.' "

Li was unable to maintain momentum and Azarenka broke her serve to lead 3-2 -- the 15th break in just 27 games of an error-strewn match -- and went on to clinch the victory that denied Serena Williams a return to the No. 1 spot.

Her more consistent approach paid off as Li paid for making 57 unforced errors to 27 despite making 36 winners to Azarenka's 18.

"It's a completely different mix of feelings. This one is way more emotional," said Azarenka, who last year topped the WTA Tour money list with more than $7 million.

"Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis. Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that's sport.

"I'm just happy that everything I went through, you know, I still could manage to give my best and really come out there and try to focus on my game and play tennis that I can produce."

Meanwhile, Americans Bob and Mike Bryan won a record 13th men's grand slam doubles title on Saturday, thrashing Dutchmen Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling in Melbourne.

The twin brothers moved past the 12 won by the Australian pair John Newcombe and Tony Roche in the 1960s and 1970s as they triumphed 6-3 6-4 in less than an hour.

The 34-year-olds, who won the Olympic title last year, have now played in 23 grand slam finals.