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Azarenka beats Li for second straight Aussie title

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Victoria Azarenka won her second consecutive Australian Open title Saturday, beating Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a dramatic final that contained a break for fireworks, two medical timeouts and a nasty fall by Li.

The Chinese star first tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle in the fifth game of the second set and had it taped.

On the first point after a 10-minute pause in the third set while fireworks boomed overhead from nearby Australia Day celebrations, Li fell over again and slammed the back of her head on the court. The 2011 French Open champion was treated and had another timeout before being allowed to resume the match.

Azarenka, who broke down in tears and sobbed into her towel when the match ended, won five of the next six games to claim her second major title and retain the No. 1 ranking.

"Unfortunately, you have to go through some rough patches to achieve great things. That's what makes it so special for me," she said. "I went through that, and I'm still able to kiss that beautiful trophy."

The 2-hour, 40-minute match featured 16 service breaks, with Li losing her service nine times.

When she first injured her ankle, Li was trailing 3-1 in the second set. When she came back, she won three of the next four games to tie it 4-4, but Azarenka broke back and then held her serve.

Azarenka broke in the opening game of the final set, just two games before the match was suspended for the fireworks, a planned stoppage of play. While Azarenka jogged around and practiced her serving motion during the 10-minute break, Li sat mostly on her courtside chair.

It was on the first point that she again fell to the court. Li said she went "totally black" for two seconds after her head hit the court, and when a medical official asked her to follow her finger, "I started laughing, thinking 'This is a tennis court, not like a hospital."' Li said the tournament doctor saw her after the match and checked out her head and neck.

"I should be OK,' Li said.

From the outset, the capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena was firmly behind Li, cheering loudly when she was introduced. Azarenka's errors were applauded, and one spectator even mocked the loud hooting sound she makes during a shot.

The chill from the crowd was a remnant of Azarenka's semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens, when Azarenka was criticized for taking a questionable 10-minute medical timeout near the end of the match. She was accused of taking the time out to compose herself after she'd wasted five match points while serving for the match against Stephens. Azarenka said she needed the time out because a rib injury was making it difficult for her to breathe and she had a knee injury.

In the second set yesterday, a few fans heckled Azarenka. One man yelled, "Take a deep breath, Vicky." By the end of the match, she appeared to have won some of the fans back. She later blew kisses to the crowd and during the trophy presentation thanked the fans for their support.

New York Sports