DOHA, Qatar – Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka hobbled around the court with an ankle injury Saturday, adjusting her game and persevering to defeat Agenieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-4 and reach the Qatar Open final.
Azarenka expects to be OK when she plays for the title Sunday against Sam Stosur. The U.S. Open champion advanced from her semifinal after Marion Bartoli retired with a right calf injury after losing the first set 6-3.
Azarenka has won 16 matches in a row, the most to start a WTA season in four years.
"I'm so proud I'm standing here," said Azarenka, appearing close to tears. "I'm just happy it's over."
This will be the first time Azarenka plays in a final since she ascended to No. 1. She has won all five previous matches against the fifth-ranked Stosur, most recently in November at the year-ending WTA Championships.
The Australian Open champion from Belarus easily won the first set against Radwanska. She broke the fourth-seeded Radwanska to go up 1-0 in the second set but then fell and twisted her right ankle trying to chase a drop shot. She limped off the court and a trainer wrapped the ankle.
Radwanska broke to go up 2-1 but Azarenka persevered, using her powerful groundstrokes and a great return game to regain control. While her mobility was clearly limited, she still managed to return everything Radwanska hit to win the next four games, including a forehand winner that made it 5-2.
Radwanska saved one match point to make it 5-3 and won the next game to raise the possibility of a third set. But Azarenka wasn't having any of it, hitting a forehand winner down the line.
"Before my fall I was really playing very good tennis, in control and was really putting a lot of pressure on her and the way I wanted to play today," Azarenka said.
"After the fall, I mean, I had to adjust. And it was a little bit unfortunate, but I just tried to stay, you know, mentally tough and just tried to play one at a time. It was difficult but I just didn't want to panic too much in the situation. ... I'm proud that I could manage to adjust in a very, very difficult situation."
Stosur won the first set against Bartoli and had two break-point opportunities in the first game of the second set when Bartoli sought help from the trainer and then withdrew.
"You always want to win a match playing the full match out and winning match point," Stosur said. "So any player will always take it if you play a set or two sets. But, of course, in the nature of the sport, you want to be able to finish it."
The win was the fourth in a row for Stosur, who was coming off a dismal run in her native Australia where she was knocked out in the first rounds in Sydney and the Australia Open. She attributed her troubles in Australia to the pressure of expectations.
"This week I've tried to stay relaxed, be a lot more loose," Stosur said. "When I'm able to be like that, my tennis just flows. And then I want to hit a forehand, I can get out there and whack it. My feet move better, and everything about my tennis is just better. So, no doubt, the way you're feeling about your game can play a huge part in the results that you get."
Bartoli said she started feeling the strain in her calf during the third set of her quarterfinal win Friday against Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. She was unsure whether she will play in Dubai next week, but was convinced she made the right decision to stop playing.
"I knew I was not 100 percent going into the match," Bartoli said. "I couldn't put any weight on it, so it really was hurting me on my serve and on every movement when I was having to change direction and push from the feet. So I think it was really good decision to take because the more I was playing, the tighter it was getting."
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