VICTORIA Azarenka admits she is unsure of the reception she will receive when she walks out for the Australian Open final against Li Na on Saturday night, having moved into damage-minimisation mode during the relative calm after the storm of Thursday's time-out controversy.
The world No. 1 and defending champion spoke to the local media on Friday, reiterating the news-conference message that it was not gamesmanship but a genuine injury that was responsible for the painful breathing problems she suffered late in the second set of her semi-final against Sloane Stephens.
In both her immediate post-match TV interviews she had seemed to suggest the issue was anxiety-related; only later did she reveal that a ''locked rib'' had caused her distress. But given that her lengthy time out came immediately after Stephens had saved five match points to break serve, her actions met with savage criticism in some quarters, including from Stephens' coach, David Nainkin.
The popular Li is expected to be a crowd favourite, and Azarenka said she was uncertain what to expect when she returned to Rod Laver Arena, but did not deny she felt some sense of apprehension. ''I just try not to think about it; I just try to focus. But whatever happens, it happens. We'll see,'' she said.
''I did my best to put this thing behind me and just to play tennis, because tomorrow is all about that, it's not about something else. It's about two girls competing against each other for the crown, so I'm just going to be out there trying to show my best, how I've been the whole two weeks, and the rest I can not really control that, I'm just there to try and be the best tennis player as I can be.''
Azarenka conceded that she had been shocked by the response, which was particularly vitriolic on social media. ''It's not easy, definitely, but it's something that unfortunately I had to go through, and I will learn from it, and I will be much more careful to answer what people ask me next time,'' she said. ''I expressed myself a lot yesterday; I did that again today to clarify things and make sure that everybody understood what really happened.
''I misunderstood the situation, people misunderstood me and I can see the confusion and why the thing blew up, because there has been a big misunderstanding … I really wanted to have a chance to clarify it, because I see it was interpreted wrong, the situation came a little bit out of control,'' Azarenka said.
''I thought it was also a little bit unfair, because everybody can make a mistake - everybody can misunderstand, but you always try to give a benefit of a doubt, you know.
''To call a trainer happens to everybody; everybody does that. I had it done against me in my third round, but I never took it the wrong way, I would never do that to my opponent, to any opponent, especially a girl like Sloane, because we are friends off-court, I think she has a great future in front of her and I would never do anything bad intentionally, that's not the kind of player I am.''
Azarenka again admitted that the timing was unfortunate, and she was sorry not to have called the trainer earlier, having first experienced problems at 4-2. ''I just thought that I could play through it, try to be tough, but at 5-3 I just couldn't breathe, I couldn't get my timing right. I didn't know what was going on. So the nerves I was talking about, which is what was misunderstood, I'd never felt that way in my life and I didn't understand what was going on.''
Her treatment continued before and after a practice session on Friday, and Azarenka said she had sent Stephens a message, ''to make sure that we are OK, that we are good with her, so that's important. I haven't seen her today, but my coach talked to her, and my agent as well.''
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said the grand slam supervisor, in conjunction with the trainer and tournament doctor, had been satisfied that the rules had been upheld and the spirit of the game adhered to. He said Azarenka had received two medical time-outs for separate rib and knee injuries.