Azarenka’s surge into the final against China’s Li Na was overshadowed by a controversial 10-minute break when she left Rod Laver Arena for treatment on a rib complaint that was giving her back pain and breathing difficulties.
When she left the court, Azarenka had just blown five match points, and America’s Stephens, 19, was left waiting to serve to stay in it. When Azarenka returned, she broke the teenager to win 6-1, 6-4 in 1 hour 41mins.
Immediately after the match, Azarenka said she had avoided “the choke of the year” and “felt a bit overwhelmed”, sparking suspicions she had called for the timeout to gather her thoughts. Azarenka was accused of gamesmanship by respected commentator Pam Shriver and her colleague at ESPN, Patrick McEnroe, called it an “absolute travesty” on Twitter.
But the 23-year-old maintained the injury was legitimate. “I had been struggling a little bit throughout the match, from the second set with my back,” she said.