Two of 2011’s breakout stars, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka, kicked off 2012 with a battle in Sydney.
Depth was the defining characteristic of the 2011 WTA season: Four different players won Grand Slam titles, with three of them being crowned a major champion for the first time.
Li Na, the French Open champion, was the only woman to make two or more finals as she was the runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open. Her Melbourne run came on the heels of winning the title at the Sydney International, where she beat Clijsters. Na would go on to finish the year at No. 5 in the world.
Ranked two spots above her was Victoria Azarenka. The Belarussian also had the best year of her career as she won the title in Miami and made the final of the season-ending championship. However, she was unable to break through at a Grand Slam, losing twice to Na at the year’s majors.
As they entered the 2012 season, both players kicked off tournament play in Sydney. Azarenka, the third seed, Azarenka advanced to the final with a three-set win over Agnieszca Radwanska in the semis. Meanwhile, Na rallied to defeat Petra Kvitova in a battle between major winners in the semifinals.
After her breakthrough French Open win, as she became the first Grand Slam singles champion from Asia, Na failed to take the championship at a tournament for the rest of 2011. Reaching the final in Sydney was a good restarting point.
However, Azarenka had other plans. The Belarussian blasted through the opening set, taking it 6-2.
Na wasn’t done yet, though.
In the second set, she turned the tables on her opponent and won the frame 6-1. With the momentum and the crowd behind her, Na appeared close to extending her head-to-head record to five wins against two losses. Azarenka—perhaps buoyed by the fact she won their most recent encounter at the end of 2011—held steady and remained on serve with Na through the first seven games. At 3-4, Azarenka struck first by securing a break to go up 5-3 in the decider. She then served out the next game to win the ninth title of her career.
This was the second time Azarenka and Na played each other in a final in Australia. Na won the first one, back in 2008, in Brisbane.
This was the third time in Na’s career that she reached consecutive finals at a tournament—on a third surface. She made back-to-back finals in 2005 and 2006 on clay in Estoril. In 2009, she was the runner-up at the grass-court tournament in Birmingham before winning the event in 2010. The Sydney tournament is played on a hard court.
Going into this tournament, Azarenka’s record in title matches was 8-8. The Sydney win broke the deadlock.
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