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Tennis

Victoria Azarenka beats Sloane Stephens at Australian Open

Photo: Aaron Favila/AP

Victoria Azarenka (right) will face Li Na in the Australian Open final on Saturday.

Victoria Azarenka had to endure some anxious moments before and after her win over American teenager Sloane Stephens.

Azarenka ended Stephens' unexpected run to the semifinals that included a quarterfinal upset of 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.

While Li Na's 6-2, 6-2 win over Sharapova, who set a tournament record in dropping only nine games in five matches en route to the semis, never appeared in doubt on Thursday, Azarenka added some drama in the second semifinal on Rod Laver Arena.

Azarenka needed six match points to finish off a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Stephens that included a medical timeout after the American broke her serve to pull within 5-3 in the second set. After leaving the court for medical attention, the Belarusian returned to break Stephens' serve to end the match.

"Well, I almost did the choke of the year,'' Azarenka told an on-court interviewer immediately after the match. "At 5-3, having so many chances I couldn't close it out.''

Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported that Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries.

"I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure,'' Azarenka said.

The 23-year-old Belarusian's on-court comments after the match led to speculation about the timing of her medical timeout. She didn't help herself in a second television interview after the match that suggested the pressure of trying to close out the match was getting to her.

"I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains,'' she said. "It was like I was getting a heart attack. After that it wasn't my best, but it's important to overcome this little bit of a struggle and win the match.''

In her official post-match news conference - more than an hour after she finished playing - Azarenka felt a need to explain her comments immediately after the match.

"I think I just really misunderstood what (the on-court interviewer) asked me because the question was I had few difficulties and why I went off,'' Azarenka said. "I completely thought of a different thing, why I couldn't close out of match, you know, that I had few difficulties.

"So I understand the whole situation right now, but it just really (is a) simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess it was my bad.''

Pressed again to explain her earlier TV comments, Azarenka said: "I did say that. I did say I couldn't breathe. It was locked. That came from my back. "

Stephens didn't think the timing of the medical break affected the outcome of the match.

"It's happened before. Last match, match before, I've had people going for medical breaks, going to the bathroom,'' she said. "Didn't affect me. Just another something else that happens.''

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