MELBOURNE, Australia – Victoria Azarenka will have 48 hours to calm her nerves, rest her body and move past a center-court controversy before she returns to defend her Australian Open title.
Her opponent Saturday is an emotionally and physically fresher Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion.
Both women used the word hungry to describe how much they want to win their second Grand Slam title.
Li charged into the semifinals without dropping a set. As a result, she will return to the top five after beating No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals.
She needed just 93 minutes Thursday to power past No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2.
I dont know what happened today, Li said. I just came to the court feeling like, OK, just do it!
Azarenka also advanced in straight sets, beating American teenager Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4. But the victory was packed with drama and ended with the top-ranked player defending herself against accusations of gamesmanship by leaving the court for a medical timeout.
Serving for the match at 5-3, the 23-year-old Azarenka wasted five match points, lost her serve – then called a timeout. She sat with a trainer and left the court during a nine-minute medical break. She returned to close out the match by breaking Stephens serve.
But she raised suspicion during her center court interview.
Well, I almost did the choke of the year, a relieved Azarenka said to the crowd. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized Im one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure.
I love to play here, and I just couldnt lose, thats why I was so upset.
Azarenka, who has a history of on-court tantrums, didnt help herself in a television interview after the match.
I couldnt breathe. I had chest pains, she said, when asked why she left the court. It was like I was getting a heart attack.
After surviving her semifinal, Azarenka had a post-match news conference where she said she was dealing with a rib injury that made it hard to breathe. She said her earlier comments were a misunderstanding.
Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported that Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries.
Right now, I just need to calm down with the whole situation (and) make sure that my bodys right, Azarenka said.
By reaching the final, Azarenka retains her No. 1 ranking.
Im really hungry to defend my title, she said. That is my first goal ... to win the tournament.