Tennis-Azarenka proves she's no 'mental case'

Reuters

Thu, 26 Jan 07:51:00 2012

Victoria Azarenka proved temper tantrums and fiery flare-ups are a thing of the past after she kept her cool in a controlled victory over Kim Clijsters to earn a place in the Australian Open final.

The world number three has a history of cracking under pressure but despite being pushed to the limit by the defending champion, she stood firm in a 6-4 1-6 6-3 win on Thursday.

The Belarusian, who will be appearing in her first grand slam final, has not been a crowd favourite at Melbourne Park but the fans at Rod Laver Arena warmed to her after a deserved victory that left her choked with emotion.

"I think before you all thought that I was a mental case," the 22-year-old said in a court-side interview. "I was just young and emotional."

Azarenka admitted that she had struggled to keep it together in the final moments of the third set.

"I felt like my hand is about 200kg and my body is about 1,000 and everything is shaking," said the Belarusian, her voice cracking with emotion.

"But that feeling when you finally win is such a relief, it's like 'My God! I cannot believe it's finally over', I just want to cry."

The deciding third set saw momentum swing back and forth, Azarenka gradually exerting more control with heavy backhands and a more consistent serve.

"There were a lot of ups and downs, but in a good way," she said. "She was coming with some incredible shots, I was really going for it.

"So it was really important to get that 5-3 lead and keep on putting pressure."

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Azarenka, riding an 11-match winning streak this year after beating China's Li Na to win the Sydney International title earlier this month, was careful not to get carried away with her victory over Clijsters.

"Today was not the end. I have one more match to go. I have to stay humble and stay focused," she said.

Azarenka, one of the game's noisiest 'grunters', was proud of the way she had dealt with the mental pressure against one of the toughest players in women's tennis.

"I think every single person experiences that, having the nerves coming, but it's just a matter of how you deal with it," she said.

"I don't think you have to deny it because it happens to everybody. You just have to try to control it."

Azarenka will meet another of the game's loudest squealers in the Melbourne final after Maria Sharapova beat world number two Petra Kvitova.

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