No. 1 Azarenka beats Sloane Stephens, Djokovic reaches Australian Open final
The American teenager nearly came back to take the second set, but the defending ladies champion held on for the victory. In men's play, the defending champ cruised past David Ferrer.
(Page 2 of 2)
"What I said — that I was stressed out and choked — was not because I couldn't finish my shot. It was just so stressing me out the pain that I had that, maybe it was overreaction, but I just really couldn't breathe."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Azarenka had retired during previous Grand Slam matches, including a fourth-round match against Serena Williams at the 2009 Australian Open. But with a second major title so close, and the fact she needed to reach the final to retain the No. 1 ranking, she desperately didn't want to quit this time.
For her part, Stephens seemed sympathetic. She had to wait through a medical timeout Wednesday when Williams received treatment for a sore back — the 15-time major winner injured herself after leading by a set and a break. Another rival earlier in the tournament took a long break between sets for other reasons.
"I mean, when you take a medical break or timeout, obviously it's for a reason," she said. "I mean, just another something else that happens. If it was one of my friends, I would say, 'Oh, my God, that sounds like a PP, which is a personal problem. Other than that, it's just unfortunate."
Besides, Stephens said, it didn't affect the outcome of the match.
"No, not at all. She played obviously a really good match," she said. "First set she played awesome; got close in the second. It didn't go my way, but I wouldn't say at all what happened affected the match."
Novak Djokovic dispensed with No. 4-seeded David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the night match, saying he "played perfectly" to reach his third consecutive Australian Open title match. Then he dispensed some medical advice of his own.
The Serb, who won the Australian titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012, wore a white shirt with a red cross on the back, pretending to be a doctor to treat Henri Leconte during a legends doubles match at Rod Laver Arena.
He's relaxed now that he has an extra day to prepare for Sunday's final. Djokovic will next play the winner of Friday's semifinal between No. 2 Roger Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, and No. 3 Andy Murray, the U.S. Open champion.
Djokovic lost only seven points in 11 service games against Ferrer, and hit 30 crisp, clean winners in an almost flawless performance.
"I cannot remember the last time I played so well," Djokovic said. "I've played many great matches, but this one stands out. Hopefully, I can play the same level on Sunday."
He played confidently in the first two sets, and was sublime in the third. Even Ferrer, who has now lost five Grand Slam semifinals and never reached a championship match, was surprised.
After hitting a forehand a fraction wide of the line and losing his challenge in a review, Ferrer double-faulted to give Djokovic match point. The errors were a measure of just how much pressure Djokovic was applying.
RECOMMENDED: Who is the best tennis player of all time?
Right after his semifinal, Djokovic started playing mind games leading to the final.
"Federer-Murray, when they're playing it's always very close," he said, confirming he'd be closely watching the match. "I wouldn't give the role of the favorite to either of them. I expect to enjoy it. Whoever I play against, I'm going to be ready."