SYDNEY (Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka emerged as a big noise for the Australian Open by winning the Sydney International title Friday while beaten opponent Li Na asked her supporters to stop shouting during matches.
“Maybe they think I’m stupid so they coach me,” defending champion Li said after her 6-2 1-6 6-3 loss to Belarus’s world number three at the Ken Rosewall Arena. “But I would like to say I’m not stupid.
“I can play very good tennis. I think if they come to see more tennis they will know not to shout. It is something I couldn’t change. I don’t have to listen to what they say. I have to focus on my tennis.”
Any hopes Azarenka had of sneaking quietly into the Australian Open with a low profile and the focus on Denmark’s world number one Caroline Wozniacki, Czech Republic’s number two Petra Kvitova, French Open champion Li and serial headline act Serena Williams, disappeared.
The 22-year-old, who has a reputation for grunting on court, will be seen as a serious title threat when the first major championship of the year begins at Melbourne Park Monday.
After ripping through the first set, she faded in the second before breaking her opponent at 4-3 and then serving for the match.
Azarenka had started the week reveling in the attention focused on the battle for the top ranking between Wozniacki and Kvitova, sneaking through the draw and receiving the bare minimum of publicity.
With nine of the top 10 women in the world playing in Sydney in a virtual dress rehearsal for Melbourne, Azarenka’s win will have made her rivals sit up and take notice.
“It brings a lot of confidence,” she said.
“But it’s going to be a new week in Melbourne, a new tournament, so for me it’s going to be starting from zero. I’m glad the way I played here through those battles that I went through, so I’ve really tested myself before a big event.
“I’m just going to try to keep going the same way with the same attitude, the same way I’m playing. There is nothing really better than I could have done this week.”
On Li’s supporters in the crowd, Azarenka said: “How many Chinese people are in the world? You know what? I just want to play the way that the crowd will start to love me. That’s the thing.”
She refused to nominate her favorite for the Australian Open, but hinted it might be her: “I think it’s your job to predict and my job to deliver.”
Li’s failure to defend the title meant her ranking will dip from number five to number six Monday. Australia’s Sam Stosur will move from sixth to fifth despite her first-round loss to Italian Francesca Schiavone in Sydney.
Asked whether losing in Sydney meant she would win in Melbourne, Li grinned.
“I wish. I mean, this is a really good wish. I don’t think anything went wrong in the match. It was a very good final. I think both players showed their best tennis on the court. I don’t think anything is wrong with my game,” she said.
“I have nothing to worry about. I made the final last year in Melbourne so I think I should be okay.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin