SYDNEY, Australia - While everyone was talking about the Top 2 battling it out for No.1, it was the World No.3 who was quietly making her way through the draw at the Apia International Sydney, and on Friday Victoria Azarenka capped a dream week at the Premier event with a 62 16 63 victory over Li Na.
While Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova were both out before the final, two of the game's biggest hitters gave the Sydney crowds a big show in prime time, Azarenka in complete control early in the match en route to 62 11; Li went on a run of six games from there, racing through the second set and breaking serve at the start of the third, but Azarenka broke back and eventually pulled away from 3-all in the decider for just her third win in their seven meetings.
"It was really difficult. I knew at some point I would get a chance, so I just had to stay with her and fight. I kept my composure," Azarenka said. "We showed some incredible tennis out there. Li Na, she's always dangerous, and she proved it again today. I'm just glad I could overcome her and win this match."
"I don't think anything went wrong. I think it was a very good final," Li said. "There's nothing to worry about. We were showing our best tennis. And my tennis is much, much better than the last half year - but it's still step by step."
Azarenka came away with her ninth WTA title and fifth at a Premier-level event. Coming in an even 8-8, she improved to 9-8 in her career in WTA finals.
Despite the loss, Li has still won 20 of her last 23 matches in Australia, a good confidence boost going into the Australian Open. But she maintains it means nothing. "Melbourne is another tournament," she said. "If I do well in Sydney, it doesn't mean anything for Melbourne. I still have to make it rung by rung."
Li also came in even in her career in WTA finals, but she came out 5-6.
Both Azarenka and Li face dangerous younger opponents in the first round of the Australian Open next week, Azarenka facing British teenager Heather Watson and Li taking on Ksenia Pervak, a talented Kazakh left-hander.
"It's going to be a new week, a new tournament, so for me it's going to be starting from zero," Azarenka said. "I'm glad the way I got through some tough battles here in Sydney, so I really tested myself before a big event. I'm going to keep going to same way with the same attitude, the same way I'm playing."
Azarenka ended with a bit of fun with one of the reporters in her presser.
"Who would you say is favored for Melbourne?" the reporter asked.
"I think it's your job to predict and my job to deliver," Azarenka said.
"Nice answer," the reporter said.
"Thank you. I thought of it two days ago," Azarenka replied.