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Azarenka repeats as Aussie champ

Victoria Azarenka overcame a hostile crowd and outlasted a hampered Li Na, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, on Saturday to secure her second straight Australian Open title.

The top-seeded Azarenka earned her 15th career title and second Grand Slam championship. She became the third woman with back-to-back Aussie Open crowns in the past 13 years, joining Jennifer Capriati (2001-02) and Serena Williams (2009-10).

"It's a completely different mix of feelings. This one is way more emotional," said Azarenka about winning a second title. "It's gonna be extra special for me, for sure."

Li, who twice had to take an injury timeout, fell in the Australian Open final for the second time in three years. She also lost in the 2011 title match to Kim Clijsters, then went on to capture her lone Grand Slam championship at the French Open later that year.

On the first point following a 10-minute break early in the third set caused by nearby fireworks for Australia Day, Li took a tumble and hit her head. She was examined and allowed to continue, but Azarenka dominated from there.

The Belarus native was trailing 2-1 at the time, but won five of the final six games to polish off Li, who had the backing of the crowd from the start of the match.

"I was expecting way worse, to be honest," said Azarenka about the crowd after the match.

The backlash apparently stemmed from Azarenka's controversial injury timeout late in her semifinal against Sloane Stephens.

"What can you do? You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day," she added.

Li was unable to convert three break-point chances in the eighth game of the final set. Azarenka managed to hold for a 5-3 edge and closed out the match with a break after Li committed a trio of errors.

"Without falling down I was feeling pretty good," joked Li. "It was a very tough match. She's No. 1, defending champion. In the important games she played better than me, so that's why she won the title."

Azarenka improved to 6-4 lifetime against Li and beat the sixth-seeded Chinese star for a fifth straight time. Li, though, had won their only two previous Grand Slam encounters -- a fourth-round victory at the 2011 Australian Open and a quarterfinal triumph en route to the title at Roland Garros a few months later.

Neither player served particularly well in a first set that featured seven breaks of serve.

Li got to Azarenka's serve four times in the opening set, including in the final game when Li failed on her first three attempts at set point before Azarenka committed a costly double fault to give away the first set.

"In the first set, she was really on top of me, I think, she was really going for her shots and making everything happen," said Azarenka. "Then I just had to re-adjust and really take advantage of when she gives me an opportunity."

Azarenka responded by taking the first three games of the second set before Li broke serve to pull within 3-1.

With the next game tied at 30-30, Li rolled her left ankle while trying to change directions on the baseline. She immediately fell to the court, then walked gingerly back toward her seat before being examined. The trainer then taped the left ankle of Li, who returned to the court after a seven-minute break.

Li seemed unfazed by the injury, as she rallied for back-to-back winners to pull within 2-3, then broke again in the eighth game to square the set at 4-4.

Azarenka answered by breaking Li's serve and then won all four points in the final game to send the match to a decisive third set.

"Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis," Azarenka noted. "Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that's sport."

The 23-year-old Azarenka will retain her No. 1 ranking thanks to the victory. She would have been surpassed by Williams if Li had won Saturday. Azarenka improved to 15-11 in finals, including 2-1 at the majors. She lost to Williams in last year's U.S. Open finale.

Li, who won the Aussie Open tune-up in Shenzen to start the year and was a semifinalist in Sydney, fell to 7-9 in her career finals and 1-2 in Grand Slam title matches.