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Azarenka outlasts Clijsters to reach final

ESPN staff
January 26, 2012 « British boys bow out of singles | Chartbeat test »
Victoria Azarenka held her nerve to beat Kim Clijsters and reach the Australian Open final © Getty Images
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Kim Clijsters' defence of her Australian Open title ended at the hands of Victoria Azarenka, with the Belarusian overcoming a second-set wobble to book a place in her maiden grand slam final.

Clijsters arrived in Melbourne in no sort of form following a torrid time with injuries. She ground her way into the semi-finals, having saved match points against Li Na, but Azarenka proved too tough to crack despite the No. 3 seed showing signs of nerves for a chunk of the match.

It was a fitful display from Azarenka, who started well only to falter in the face of a barrage of quality from Clijsters. But just when the Melbourne crowd sensed the woman they have taken to their hearts would come through, Azarenka found her stride to dash their hopes and claim a 6-4 1-6 6-3 victory.

If there were any nerves inside Azarenka, she quickly dispelled them by hitting crisply from the back of the court. She seized on anything short from Clijsters and a powerful forehand return clinched a break.

Azarenka mixed power with guile in the opening set. She saved four break points in the fourth game - notably with a stunning drop shot that even the fleet-of-foot Clijsters did not attempt to track down.

Clijsters forced Azarenka to serve for the opening set and she faced up to the challenge in style, opening the game with her first ace of the match and getting the set in the bag at the third time of asking.

There were signs of an upturn in Clijsters' game towards the end of the first set and she carried the momentum forward and forced an error from Azarenka to break.

As Clijsters' game improved, Azarenka's went badly awry. Her first serve percentage in the second set dipped to a woeful 35% and she threw in 16 unforced errors. Azarenka's second set malaise was summed up in the third game as she sent a smash six feet over the baseline with the court at her mercy and it enabled Clijsters to level the match.

Azarenka steeled herself to hold an epic first game of the final set and it seemed to fill her with belief as winners flew off both wings in the following game to earn her a break to love.

There was tremendous tension in the Rod Laver Arena with breaks of serve traded at alarming regularity. Clijsters got the match back on serve at 3-4, but Azarenka broke again and with the match in her grasp she seized the moment to clinch victory on her own serve.

Azarenka threw in an awful double fault at match point, but an error from Clijsters handed her the victory. It was a disappointing way for Clijsters to bow out of her final Australian Open, but it moves Azarenka to within one game of a first slam and the world No. 1 ranking.

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