Tramlines

Injury drama and concussion scare overshadows final

Forget about the tennis. For two-and-a-half sets that was not of a particularly high standard, although things got considerably better towards the end.

Forget that Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title and also ensured that she remained at number one in the world for at least another week.

Even forget about the fact that Azarenka became just the fifth active player to have two or more Grand Slam titles to her name.

No, what the 2013 women's Australian Open final will be remembered for is the drama surrounding the match.

There was a lot of talk going into the match about Azarenka’s controversial injury time-out at the end of her semi-final with Sloane Stephens, when she was again accused of gamesmanship and pushing the rules to their very limits.

There was a lot of pressure, particularly on the world number one as she was booed and jeered on her entrance to the court, while the crowd also mimicked her squeal during points.

But even the most cynical of viewers couldn’t have predicted the injury-related drama that would take place during the final.

Li Na head injury

There was always going to be a 10-minute delay in proceedings for the traditional fireworks that mark every Australia Day around 9.45pm in Melbourne.

But on top of that there were a further two injury time-outs (three, if you count the one Azarenka took during the firework delay).

First, Li fell nastily on the baseline, deep in the second set. She took a while to get up and then reluctantly put weight on her left ankle, which was immediately assessed and taped by the trainer.

Li Na ankle injury

The Chinese sixth seed bravely continued and even seemed to be hitting more freely and impressively for a few games during what was an error-riddled first two sets from both players.

Things were just about settling down early in the third and it looked as though the decider might finally produce the kind of tennis befitting of a Grand Slam final.

Then came the firework display (very impressive as usual, by the way) to disrupt proceedings. But the drama of half a million dollars of fireworks was overshadowed immediately on court as Li again rolled the same ankle on the first point after the re-start.

This time though, she fell much more heavily. Toppling over sideways and spinning through the air, she landed on her back and rolled heavily into the court, her head smashing into the ground.

The agony on her face was plain to see, and the crowd held its collective breath as the trainer and doctor rushed to her aid.

Li Na cracks her head on the surface of the Rod Laver Arena

Their medical assessment took several minutes, as Li was asked questions to see whether or not she was concussed. At one point, she was apparently asked if she was seeing flashing lights, which brought the player's smile to her face as she gestured to the sky where the smoke from the fireworks was still clearing.

And once that grin was on her face - as ever with Li - it never left her. The crowd was treated to the incredible sight of Li not just continuing the match, but doing so still chuckling to herself about the incident.

And what's more, it even freed up her tennis as the on-court fireworks belatedly began: she quickly hit a couple of scorching winners on resumption of play to suggest a classic finale could be in the offing. It was not to be - Azarenka's slightly superior consistency kept her one step ahead - but while the Belarus wrapped up the title, the cheerful Li was the player who walked away having won the hearts of the Melbourne fans.

SHOT OF THE DAY:

In one of the few high-quality games of the first two sets, Azarenka came up with this beautiful passing shot forehand winner while serving to stay in the opening set. Shame she ruined it just a couple of points later by conceding the set on a double fault.

PHOTO OF THE DAY:

In case you were in any doubt just how much tension Azarenka had been feeling in the 48 hours building up to the final, the floods of relieved tears that came pouring out of the world number one after the match should make it abundantly clear just how much the victory meant to her.

Victoria Azarenka