Australian Open final: Victoria Azarenka vs Li Na

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“I couldn’t 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 and denied that she took a medical timeout to compose herself.

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 body’s right,” Azarenka said.

Li had a much more routine victory in the semifinals.

She needed just 93 minutes in Thursday’s other semifinal to power past No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2. She then charmed an adoring crowd by cracking jokes during an on-court interview. She kidded about her husband’s snoring, her attempts to lose weight and the tough training by her new coach Carlos Rodriguez _ before turning to the stands to thank him.

“You don’t need to push me anymore. I will push myself,” she told Rodriguez, the former coach for seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin.

“I don’t know what happened today,” Li said later. “I just came to the court feeling like, `OK, just do it!”

Li is in top physical form and is making a comeback to the championship weekend at a Grand Slam. After becoming the first Chinese tennis player to win at a major in 2011, she hit a slump. But she has seen rapid results in the six months since she hired Rodriguez, who seems to have a knack for guiding players past their nerves.

Li charged into the semifinals at the Australian Open without dropping a set. After beating No. 4-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals she secured herself a return to the top five in the rankings.

If the reaction at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday was any indication, the crowd favorite for the final will be Li _ who won over a lot of fans in her match and perhaps even more as a result of Azarenka’s situation.

Australian crowds love their defending champions, but dislike any whiff of bad sportsmanship. Accusations against Azarenka immediately surged through social media platforms.

By reaching the final, Azarenka retains her No. 1 ranking, but has said that’s not her focus.

“I’m really hungry to defend my title,” she said. “That is my first goal … to win the tournament.”

If she masters her jitters and comes into the final focused, Li will have a tough fight.

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