Azarenka downs defending champion Li in Sydney final

    Victoria Azarenka claimed her sixth WTA Tour title by winning the Sydney International.

    Story highlights

    • Victoria Azarenka defeats defending champion Li Na in Sydney International final
    • The veteran duo of Jarkko Niemenen and Julien Benneteau will contest the men's final
    • Top seed Yanina Wickmayer powers into the final of the Hobart International
    • Australian rising star Bernard Tomic reaches the Kooyong Classic final
    Third seed Victoria Azarenka defeated defending champion Li Na 6-2 1-6 6-3 on Friday to win the Sydney International in their final warm-up for next week's Australian Open.
    The Belarusian claimed her sixth WTA Tour title after a high-quality clash to boost her hopes of a first grand slam title in Melbourne, where she will play Britain's Heather Watson in the first round.
    "It was really difficult. I knew at some point I would get a chance, so I just had to stay with her and fight. I kept my composure," Azarenka told the WTA Tour website.
    "We showed some incredible tennis out there. Li Na, she's always dangerous, and she proved it again today. I'm just glad I could overcome her and win this match."
    Li became the first Chinese woman to win a top-level tournament with victory a year ago, then was Asia's first grand slam singles finalist at the season's opening major before her breakthrough win at the French Open in June.
    Andy Murray tries road tennis
    Andy Murray tries road tennis

      JUST WATCHED

      Andy Murray tries road tennis

    MUST WATCH

    Andy Murray tries road tennis 01:04
    However, her form slumped in the second half of 2011, and she sacked her coach to rehire her husband.
    The 29-year-old was seeded fourth in Sydney in the absence of Maria Sharapova, but will be fifth in the Melbourne draw as she starts out against Ksenia Pervak of Kazakhstan.
    "It was a very good final," said Li, who beat Petra Kvitova in Thursday's semis to stop the Czech having a chance of taking Caroline Wozniacki's No. 1 ranking.
    "We were showing our best tennis. And my tennis is much, much better than the last half-year -- but it's still step by step.
    "Melbourne is another tournament. If I do well in Sydney, it doesn't mean anything for Melbourne. I still have to make it rung by rung."
    In the men's draw, Jarkko Nieminen booked a place in Saturday's final by beating Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin 7-6 (14-12) 6-3.
    The 30-year-old Finn, who also reached the final in 2009, will face fellow qualifier Julien Benneteau.
    The Frenchman needed six match points before clinching a 6-4 6-4 win against 2010 champion Marcos Baghdatis, who eliminated top seed and 2009 U.S. Open winner Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals.
    In Tasmania, top-seeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer stormed into the final of the Hobart International by beating Israeli sixth seed Shahar Peer 7-6 (7-1) 6-3.
    The world No. 29 will face German qualifier Mona Barthel, who continued her impressive run with a 6-0 7-6 (8-6) triumph against fourth-seeded compatriot Angelique Kerber.
    Men's world No. 5 David Ferrer will play 68th-ranked Belgian Olivier Rochus in Saturday's final of the New Zealand Open as he seeks to retain his title.
    Ferrer, also the 2007 champion, beat fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 on Friday while Rochus eliminated 2008 winner Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 6-4.
    Meanwhile, world No. 8 Mardy Fish will play Australian teenager Bernard Tomic in Saturday's final of the Kooyong Classic exhibition event in Melbourne.
    The American beat Austria's Jurgen Melzer 6-2 4-6 6-1 to earn a clash with the 37th-ranked 19-year-old, who defeated France's world No. 15 Gael Monfils on Thursday.
    Former No. 1 Andy Roddick of the U.S. suffered a 6-3 6-3 loss to promising Japanese player Kei Nishikori in a relegation playoff.