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  • Australian Open, What They Said, Day 11

Azarenka rubbishes gamesmanship barb

ESPN staff
January 24, 2013 « Etim: Renee Forte gets punished at Wembley Arena | Chartbeat test »

Victoria Azarenka advanced to the final with victory over Sloane Stephens, but all the talk was about her controversial injury timeout after squandering five match points. After describing it in her on-court interview as "almost the choke of the year" she went into more detail in her press conference. She said: "I had been struggling a little bit throughout the whole match, from the second set, my back. And it just kept getting worse. I should have called the trainer a little bit earlier before that when I got to the point that I couldn't really breathe and had to go off court. "So there was a little bit of my bad. But just a rib got locked and kept getting worse. I had to have it adjusted. I really had to go and take that medical timeout."

When asked if it was gamesmanship, Azarenka said: "I don't really because it was necessary thing for me to do. I just regret that I didn't take it earlier. That it got to the point that it was pretty much impossible for me to breathe and to play. It took a little bit longer. The timing, it was my bad. The game before that when I lost my service game, it kept getting worse. I thought I would have to play through it and keep calm. But it just got worse. You know, I had to do it. I had to unlock my rib, which was causing my back problem. The trainer said we had to go off court to treat that. I just didn't really want to take off my dress on the court."

Azarenka continued to be grilled, being accused of changing her answer from the one she gave on court. In response, she said: "What can I tell you after a few seconds after the match? I couldn't really talk about everything what was going on. You know, I'm telling you what happened right now honestly, that my back was bothering me. It took me too long of a time to call the trainer, which was my mistake. I took it to the point where I couldn't breathe, which was causing from my back problem, and I couldn't really figure out what was going on on the court. When the trainer told me that was the rib that was blocking that, my back, that's what happened."

Sloane Stephens slipped to defeat to Azarenka and will treat her first grand slam semi-final as a learning curve. She said: "it was definitely tough. It was a tough situation. I did my best. I obviously didn't get the win, but I just did everything I could and came up a little bit short. All in all it was okay."

There was a controversial moment when Azarenka took a lengthy injury timeout after squandering five match points, but Stephens did not felt it had an impact. She said: "I've had in the last match, the match before, medical breaks, go to the bathroom, the whole showdown. It was just something else, but it didn't affect anything, I don't think. I did lose the next game, but I wouldn't say that's because of the medical timeout is why I lost the next game.

"She played obviously a really good match. First set she played awesome; got close in the second. I just didn't want to give it to her basically and just kind of worked for every point. It didn't go my way, but I wouldn't say at all what happened affected the match."

Li Na booked a second Australian Open final with a superb win over Maria Sharapova. The Chinese star has struggled to keep her cool in the past, but she has been working on keeping things in check. She said: "Maybe like before I was angry. At the start of this year, I am trying to cool down on the court. Like Hollywood. You don't have to show you opponent what are you thinking. A little bit like Hollywood, but not real."

Li is looking forward to having a crack for her second grand slam success, after winning the French Open in 2011. She said: "I mean, in 2011, first time in a grand slam final, I was a little bit shocked because I didn't know what I should do. Also, no one told me what I should do on the court. But this time I have got more experience, so I think should be better."

Maria Sharapova felt she paid the price for not being aggressive enough in her defeat to Lia Na. She said: "I think she played a really great match. She was certainly much more aggressive than I was, dictating the play. I was always on the defense. When I had my opportunities and breakpoints in games that went to deuce, I don't think any of them really went my way today. She was aggressive, taking the first ball and doing something with it. When I was trying to, I was making too many unforced errors."

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