Azarenka's controversial win puts Li in leading position

Melbourne, Jan 25 (IANS) Reigning champion Victoria Azarenka needs to defend her reputation after she took a controversial semi-final victory, beating American teenager Sloane Stephens.

And the only way she can achieve that goal is to beat China's No.6 seed Li Na with a solid win in Saturday's final at the Australian Open, reports Xinhua.

The World No.1 Belarusian called medical timeout after she wasted five match points when serving for the match at 5-3. After leaving the court for a 10-minute medical break, the 23-year-old returned to break Stephen's serve and win the match.

Azarenka was questioned in the post-match press conference and accusations against the 23-year-old immediately surged through social media platforms, which makes Li Na definitely a crowd favourite for the final.

Li, who won over a lot of fans in her match, stormed into her second Australian Open final without dropping a set, including beating fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals and No.2 Maria Sharapova in the semi-final. She will return to the top five after the Australian Open.

Li hired Justine Henin's former coach Carlos Rodriguez last August and the partnership has produced rapid outcome, especially for Li in emotional control.

After beating Sharapova in straight sets, Li cracked jokes during a court-side interview. She teased about her husband's snoring, her attempts to lose weight and the tough training by Rodriguez, which brought her applause.

The World No.6 reached her first Grand Slam final here in 2011. Though she lost to Kim Clijsters in the final, Li became the first Chinese tennis player to win at a major five months later in the French Open. With the help from Rodriguez, she made it back to the final at a Grand Slam tournament again after 600 days.

The Belarusian is also reaching her third Grand Slam final. Azarenka won her first major title at Melbourne Park last year, which also awarded her the World No.1 ranking. But since then, she has been somewhat quiet on the court. Azarenka failed to win any other Grand Slam in 2012, only making it to the final in the US Open, in which she lost to Serena Williams.

The only other major achievement for Azarenka last year was making it to the semi-finals during the London Olympics, where she once again lost to Serena Williams. To close out the year, Azarenka made it to the semi-finals in the WTA Tour Championships where she once again lost, this time to current World No.2 Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka was 21-3 in her 2012 Grand Slam matches but her inability to beat other elite players has been an issue. She leads 5-4 against Li in career matches, including the last four times they've played.

However, Li has a better record at Grand Slams, having beaten Azarenka at the 2011 Australian Open before reaching the final that year. Li also beat the Belarussian later that year at the French Open before winning the title.

"I wish I can continue that result," Li Na said in a press conference Friday.