Azarenka vs Li Na Live: Azarenka vs Li Na Live Commentary Australian Open 2013
Two players that know what it takes to win a Grand Slam, both of whom have appeared in the final in Melbourne in the past. It should be an excellent contest between Li Na and Victoria Azarenka. The H2H is 5-4 in favour of the Belarusian, although it is worth bearing in mind that she has won each of the last four contests, including all three in 2012.
Li Na caused a shock in the semi-final when she dismantled the in-form Maria Sharapova. The Russian had only dropped nine games on route to the semis, but had no answer to the Chinese player. In my preview, I said that Li Na would have to serve well, particularly on her second serve. The statistics prove that she did exactly this. She won 62% of her first service points, and a hugely impressive 63% behind her second serve. She was also able to hit plenty of first serves, recording a 62% first serves in play.
When she is playing well, she is very good. She fired 21 winners and just 18 unforced errors, firing those winners almost equally off her forehand and her backhand. She was also able to frustrate Maria Sharapova by getting plenty of balls in play. There has been a criticism of Sharapova in the past than when Plan A fails, she does not have a Plan B, and this was demonstrated perfectly. Li Na neutralised Plan A, and the Russian did not have a reply. Just 17 winners compared to 32 unforced errors was her downfall, and the Chinese player fully deserves her spot in the final.
Victoria Azarenka never really looked like losing, but she was certainly far from impressive and her actions hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A controversial medical timeout at 5-4 in the second set, just before Sloane Stephens was set to serve to stay into the match, was the spark, and her explanation in the on-court interview seemed to suggest that she took the timeout to calm her nerves after failing to serve out the match. In the press conference, she claimed that she had a back problem that was restricting her breathing, but either way, she will certainly not be popular with the crowd.
However, this is unlikely to bother Azarenka. She has never been a crowd favourite and seems to almost enjoy being the pantomime villain. It is unlikely to be a more hostile crowd than she has faced before, notably in Istanbul in 2011, where she was loudly booed for not trying in a round robin match when she had already qualified.
Off-court issues aside, the bigger worry was her level of play. 21 winners to 31 unforced errors were not exactly the statistics that she was hoping to post, and the real problem was the way her forehand deserted her in the second set. 18 of those unforced errors came off the forehand wing, while she also threw in six double faults. She was still able to progress as Stephens also played poorly, possibly fatigued after her run, or maybe overcome by the situation.
Regardless, if Azarenka does not improve her level, she will lose this match. Li Na has been in exceptional form all year, only losing once, and her level against Sharapova was excellent.
Once again, the key for Li Na will be protecting her second serve. In all four of her recent defeats to Azarenka, she has won less than 50% on her second serve – a figure that dropped to just 28% in their most recent encounter. If she can hit plenty of first serves, she should get the points and games on the board, then attack the Azarenka serve, which is undoubtedly a weakness.
She dismantled the Sharapova second serve in their semi-final, and this will be a feature of this match. Azarenka’s second serve is very much just a shot to get the ball into play. Li Na will look to attack on the return and take control of the rallies. Sharapova won just 25% of points behind her second serve and Li Na will be looking to replicate this.
If she can make real inroads into the second serve, it will force Azarenka to try and put more on it. She has had a problem with double faults, having served 28 already in the competition, and the problem could be exacerbated if Li Na is regularly dispatching her second serve.
The key for Azarenka will be to put plenty of balls into play. Li Na, despite the fact that she is playing well, can be hugely inconsistent at times and, particularly with the pressure of it being a Grand Slam final, could find her game disintegrating at any moment. She has been known to have lapses under pressure in the past and it could crop up again.
Either way, this has the potential to be an intriguing contest between two excellent players. I would be surprised if either player were to win this in straight sets, so while I’m not going to predict a winner, I am expecting a tight, competitive match.