In the second semi final match on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, top seed Victoria Azarenka took on the bright new star in the women’s game, the 28th seeded American Sloane Stephens. At just 19 years old, Stephens was a cool customer the day before when she defeated her idol, Serena Williams, so hopes were high for another competitive match between these two players who had never met before. Just by getting to the semis, Stephens earned half a million dollars – more than her total earnings in her career to date – in which she has yet to win a title on the WTA tour.
In brutal heat of 44° degrees on court and 34° in the shade, Azarenka won the toss and chose to receive. Stephens began slowly, allowing Azarenka to break and then hold her own serve. The third game was very long and competitive, with Stephens eventually holding her serve with a great forehand down the line on her third advantage point. Azarenka did not drop another game and took the set 6-1 in 33 minutes.
Azarenka started the second set and held and broke to lead 2-0. In the third game it seemed that she injured her ankle, but she continued to play and allowed Stephens to break back and then hold her own serve for 2-2. Azarenka won the next two games to lead 4-2, but in the 7th game Stephens pulled off some great shot to get the top seed rattled and she then served two double faults to let the American get one of the breaks back and go on to hold her serve for 3-5. Serving for the match and clearly rattled, Azarenka had a real battle on her hands as she dropped five match points to let Stephens break yet again. Dramatically, she then called for the trainer at the sit down for what seemed to be a neck or back problem and was taken off court for treatment. Ten minutes later the game resumed with Stephens serving with new balls, but the break had clearly put her off her rhythm and Azarenka hit a winner on her 6th match point to take the set at 6-4.
In her on court chat at the end of the match, Azarenka said that she could not breathe and panicked, but that the doctor and trainer found that the tightness in her chest was due to stress. No wonder she hardly got any applause and it seems that the medical time out rules should be tightened.