• Australian Open, Day 13

Azarenka takes positives from negative press

ESPN staff
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Victoria Azarenka was overcome with emotion following her victory over Li Na © Getty Images
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After succesfully defending her Australian Open title with victory over Li Na, an emotional Victoria Azarenka admitted she struggled mentally in the build-up to the final after a great deal of negative press in Melbourne.

Azarenka broke down in tears after she came from behind to defeat Li 4-6 6-4 6-3 and retain her world No. 1 ranking, but struggled to win over the Australian crowd after controversy in her semi-final triumph over Sloane Stephens.

Azarenka was accused of gamesmanship for a late injury timeout against Stephens, but it was the Belarusian who had to wait on her opponent this time as Li called the trainer on two separate occasions.

The top seed kept her focus to see out victory and she believes she has come out of the incident a better player after struggling mentally in the wake of Thursday's storm.

"It isn't easy, that's for sure, but I knew what I had to do," Azarenka said. "I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me. And that's pretty much it.

"I was actually really happy that I went through so many things knowing that I can still produce the tennis that I can and keep the focus that I can. It just motivates me to be a better player.

"What happened with Sloane, it was a big deal, for sure. It came out as a big deal. It wasn't a big deal on the court. But I take it as a great learning experience and just try to live the moment and take the best things out of what happened and move forward.

"But emotionally, there were a lot of things. Two weeks is very difficult to keep your cool, because it seems in one way so short, but in another way it seems so long. So you just have to kind of try to manage everything. But I think the whole world knows I'm an emotional player now."

Twelve months ago Azarenka won the Australian Open title to usurp Caroline Wozniacki as world No. 1, and this year she needed to defend her crown to retain the top ranking. But while she embraced the added pressure, Azarenka insists she did not approach the tournament, or the final, any differently.

She said: "I never thought about the No. 1 ranking. The pressure was there, but I like the pressure, you know. It's interesting. It's very interesting thing. It pushes you to be better. You can take it different way. You can take it negative and try to, you know, think negative.

"But I take it as a positive, something that will push me forward to improve, to get better, and the outcome is out of my hands. I just have to be really focused on what I do, very honest with what I do, and that's it."

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