Azarenka overcomes stubborn Stephens to make final

Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:09am EST
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By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka brought Sloane Stephens's Melbourne Park fairytale to an end on Thursday, overcoming injury niggles and an attack of nerves to advance to the Australian Open final against China's Li Na.

The defending champion appeared to pick up injuries to her left knee and then to her ribs but ran out a relatively comfortable 6-1 6-4 winner against the American 19-year-old.

Azarenka will have two days to recover before the final against Li, who demolished Maria Sharapova earlier in the day.

The Belarusian, 23, looked flustered early in the second set and her frustration level increased when the 29th ranked Stephens saved five match points with Azarenka serving at 5-3.

However, the top seed seized the opportunity on Stephens's next service game to close out the match.

"I almost did the choke of the year right now," Azarenka said courtside. "At 5-3 having so many chances, couldn't close it out but I'm glad I could close it out.

"Nerves got into me for sure.

NOTHING TO LOSE   Continued...

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a return to Sloane Stephens of the U.S. during their women's singles semi-final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne