- Associated Press - Friday, January 25, 2013

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - It was back in 2011 that Li Na remembers first feeling the benefits of being a big tennis star.

She had just won her first Grand Slam title at the French Open and was headed back home when she saw her face on TV at the airport. Then she got upgraded to business class.

“They came up to me and said, `We know you. You just won the tournament.’ So (they) moved me to business class,” she said. “I was (thinking), `Oh, this is not so bad.’”

Back in those days, Li also remembers feeling a lot more nervous about her big matches. Before her big win at Roland Garros, she was the Australian Open runner-up, becoming the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final.

On Saturday, the 30-year-old Li returns to the Australian Open final, taking on defending champion and No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka.

Now seeded-sixth, Li says she’s more accustomed to the fame that comes with being one of China’s biggest sports stars. She feels more grounded for this final and less anxious.

“Last time was more exciting, (more) nervous because it was my first time to be in a final,” Li said Friday. “But I think this time (I’m) more calmed down, more cool.”

Both women say their goal is to keep cool and not let their emotions get the best of them on the big day.

In that respect, Li enters the final with an advantage.

She is emotionally and physically fresher than Azarenka, who said she needed to recover from her stressful semifinal.

Azarenka advanced in straight sets over American teenager Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-4 in their Thursday semifinal. But needed six match points in a victory that 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 asked for 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 an interview on center court immediately after the match.

“Well, I almost did the choke of the year,” a relieved Azarenka told the crowd. “I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I’m one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure.”

Azarenka, who has a history of on-court tantrums, didn’t help herself in a television interview after the match.

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