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How the Australian Open women's finalists measure up

Last updated on: January 26, 2013 08:34 IST

Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

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Defending champion Victoria Azarenka will bid for back-to-back titles at Melbourne Park on Saturday when she takes on China's late-blooming Li Na in the final of the Australian Open.

The 23-year-old Belarusian holds a 5-4 career record against former French Open champion Li, including the last four of their encounters.

Li, however, has prevailed in both their Grand Slam clashes, including her run to the 2011 final at Melbourne Park where she was overhauled by Belgian Kim Clijsters in three sets.

Both players are bidding for their second Grand Slam crown

Here's how the playrs measure up:

Age: 23

Seeded: One

Grand Slam titles: 1 (Australian Open 2012)

The previously hot-headed Belarusian has spent a year at world number one after capturing her maiden major title at Melbourne Park last year, but a loss to Li in Saturday's final would see her lose the top ranking to American great Serena Williams.

Left home in Minsk at the age of 14 to train in Arizona. A tall, powerful right-hander, she became the first female Grand Slam finalist from Belarus since Natasha Zvereva reached the final at Roland Garros in 1988.


Image: Victoria Azarenka
Photographs: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

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Azarenka eyes back-to-back Aus Open titles

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Azarenka had been an inconsistent performer at Grand Slam level until 2011 when she made the French Open quarter-finals and semi-finals at Wimbledon, losing to eventual champion Petra Kvitova.

Following her Melbourne Park breakthrough in 2012, Azarenka was dumped from the fourth round at the French Open, but made the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the final at the US Open, where she was beaten by Serena Williams.

She also won mixed doubles gold and a singles bronze at the London Olympics.

Path to the final:

1st round: beat Monica Niculescu (Romania) 6-1, 6-4

2nd round: beat Eleni Daniilidou (Greece) 6-1, 6-0

3rd round: beat Jamie Hampton (U.S.) 6-4, 4-6, 6-2

4th round: beat Elena Vesnina (Russia) 6-1, 6-1

Quarter-finals: beat Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) 7-5, 6-1

Semi-finals: beat 29-Sloane Stephens (US) 6-1, 6-4


Image: Victoria Azarenka
Photographs: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

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Li Na (China)

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Age: 30

Seeded: Six

Grand Slam titles: 1 (French Open 2011)

Li Na has continued her love affair with the year's first Grand Slam, where she has made at least the semi-finals in three of the past four years.

Her match against Azarenka will be her second final at Melbourne Park after losing the 2011 title to Belgium's Kim Clijsters.

Like many elite Chinese athletes, Li was hand-picked to train with the country's Soviet-style sports system from a young age, but was initially identified as a badminton player before being moved into tennis.

Li spent much of her career clashing with China's tennis administration over pay, training and national duty, and gave up the game for a period to study media at university.

She returned to the tour in 2004 to capture the first WTA title for China in Guangzhou, and became the first Chinese to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon in 2006.


Image: Li Na
Photographs: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

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The first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title

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Li struggled with injuries during 2007-08, and missed out on a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics, but began to play her best tennis from 2009 after being permitted to manage her own career and training with a handful of other top women players in a landmark decision by China's tennis association.

She advanced to a second Grand Slam quarter-final at the 2009 US Open, and a maiden major semi-final at the 2010 Australian Open, which made her the first Chinese player to crack the top 10.

The late-blooming Li captured the 2011 French Open title at the age of 29, where she defeated Francesca Schiavone to become the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title. That gave her a career-high ranking of four, equal to the record for an Asian player held by Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Li spent the next year and a half in the Grand Slam wildnerness, until her revival at Melbourne Park this week under new coach Carlos Rodriguez, who guided Belgian Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles.

Path to the final:

1st round: beat Sesil Karatantcheva (Kazhakstan) 6-1, 6-3

2nd round: beat Olga Govortsova (russia) 6-2, 7-5

3rd round: beat 27-Sorana Cirstea (Romania) 6-4, 6-1

4th round: beat 18-Julia Goerges (Germany) 7-6, 6-1

Quarter-finals: beat 4-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) 7-5, 6-3

Semi-finals: beat 2-Maria Sharapova (Russia) 6-2, 6-2


Image: Li Na
Photographs: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

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