MELBOURNE, Australia -- It felt in some ways like a discordant, minor-key finish to a major. But the trophy is just as shiny.
World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka walked into Rod Laver Arena to defend her Australian Open title knowing the best she could expect from the crowd was ambivalence, thanks to the controversial medical timeout she took at a critical juncture in her semifinal against surging young American Sloane Stephens. Azarenka took a thrashing in social media and in the mainstream media as her motives were widely second-guessed.
Fans cheered her missed shots and double faults and greeted her winners tepidly while urging on underdog Li Na of China, who likely would have been their darling anyway thanks to the impressive game and improvisational comedy genius she has displayed for the past two weeks.
Victoria Azarenka needed to put the controversial semifinal behind her -- and that's exactly what she did against Li Na.
Yet the resolute Azarenka might as well have played the whole match with ear buds in. Her ability to shut out the static helped her overcome the only person who counted, sixth-seeded Li, in an error-prone 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory that was as much about attrition as competition.
"I knew what I had to do," said Azarenka, who added that she had "expected way worse" from the crowd.