Azerenka controlled the match for most of the way, but what happened when her nerves took over will be the largest takeaway from this semifinal.
The defending champion had lost five match points when she called for a medical timeout, which led to a ten-minute stoppage in play.
Stephens, meanwhile, had just earned her serve back and was attempting to stay in the match when Azarenka used the timeout. Talk about an awkward time to bring out the doctor.
Claiming chest and knee pains, Azarenka was checked on by a medical team and went to the locker room before returning to finish off the match.
Stephens went through a similar song and dance in the quarterfinals when Serena Williams called an injury timeout early on. Stephens would go onto win that match swimmingly.
Azakrenka explained herself on the court following the match, claiming her nerves got the best of her, when she said:
“Well I almost did the choke of the year right now. At 5-3 having so many chances, couldn’t close it out. I’m glad I could just turn it around. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed realizing that I’m one step from the final and nerves got into me for sure.”
Stephens coach David Nainkin thought Azarenka abused the rules (h/t USA Today):
”I thought it was very unfair — cheating within the rules. It was unsportsmanlike. I don’t think you should be able to leave the court before the opponent serves for 10 minutes for whatever reason. You’d better have something pretty good. I think there’s a gray area in the rule book that shoudn’t be allowed. End of story.”
They may have been cause for concern as Azarenka collapsed in a U.S. Open match and had to leave in a wheelchair over two years ago. At the time, she was losing that match in the first set.
And now, thoughts on Azarenka’s actions from the Twittersphere…
FoxSports.com columnist Greg Couch calls Azarenka’s timeout as he sees it:
Bad look for women's tennis when the No. 1 player pulls stunt like that.— Greg Couch (@gregcouch) January 24, 2013
Former men’s No. 4 Jonas Bjorkman exclaims that tennis needs to reform that timeout rule:
Azarenka took a medical timeout after all her missing matchpoints or because of an injury? Time to change that rule! No sportsmanship there!— Jonas Bjorkman (@BjorkmanTennis) January 24, 2013
ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe was in a state of shock following the match:
So let me get this straight. She had a lot of nerves and that's why she left the court. Unbelievable— Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) January 24, 2013
Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim had a hard time accepting Azarenka’s comments:
Not sure if it's weirdly admirable or horrifying arrogance/cluelessness that Azarenka unapologetically admitted to gamesmanship— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 24, 2013
Azarenka will face sixth-seeded Li Na in the Aussie Open final. With a win on Saturday, Azarenka will win her second-straight Australian Open title