MELBOURNE, Australia — Victoria Azarenka has 48 hours to calm her nerves, rest her body and move past a controversy before going for her second straight Australian Open title.
Azarenka advanced Thursday in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4 over American teen Sloane Stephens. In Saturday's final, Azarenka faces No. 6 Li Na, who routed No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2.
But Azarenka's semifinal victory was packed with drama and ended with the top seed defending herself against an accusation of gamesmanship.
Serving at 5-3, Azarenka failed to convert five match points before being broken. She then called a timeout, sat with a trainer and left the court for nine minutes. She returned and broke Stephens to win. But she raised suspicion during two interviews on center court.
"I almost did the choke of the year," she said to fans. "I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final, and nerves got into me. I love to play here, and I just couldn't lose. That's why I was so upset."
Then came a TV interview.
"I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains," Azarenka said on why she left. "It was like I was getting a heart attack."
During the Belarusian's news conference more than an hour after the match, she felt the need to explain the TV comments.
"I think I just really misunderstood what he asked me because the question was I had few difficulties (in the match) and why I went off," Azarenka said. "I completely thought of a different thing; why I couldn't close out the match; that I had a few difficulties (medically)."
Australian Open officials said the tournament doctor reported Azarenka had left knee and rib injuries.
"Right now, I just need to calm down … make sure that my body's right," she said.
Pressed again to explain her TV comments, Azarenka said: "I did say that. I did say I couldn't breathe."
Stephens, whose quarterfinal victory was interrupted by Serena Williams' medical timeout, downplayed allegations of gamesmanship, saying the break didn't affect the outcome.
"I've had people going for medical breaks, going to the bathroom," said Stephens, who will move to No. 17 from No. 29 in the rankings. "Just something else that happens."
'Perfect' Djokovic cruises into final
Two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic conducted a clinic, routing No. 4 David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in Thursday's semifinal.
"I played perfectly," said the top seed, who faces the winner of today's match between No. 2 Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray (not over at press time). "This is … one of the best performances I ever had in my career."
Djokovic needed 5 hours, 2 minutes to beat Stanislaw Wawrinka, then lost a set against Tomas Berdych in the quarters. But against Ferrer, he converted all seven break-point chances while not facing any.
Ferrer double faulted to set up match point.
"I prefer to play worse in a semifinal than in the first round," Ferrer said. "Of course, I am not happy with my game (today), but this is tennis."