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"I will always keep very special memories of this court and it will be in my heart forever," she said, pausing several times to find the right words. "Of course, I (almost) forgot to say congratulations to Li Na, she's had a terrific start to the year ... hope to see you in many, many more finals."
Later, Azarenka said she expected a "way worse" reception from the crowd.
"You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day," she said. "The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, to do everything I could, and it was left behind me already."
Azarenka and Li had met twice before in Grand Slam tournaments, with Li winning both times - in the fourth round of the 2011 Australian Open and quarterfinals at the French Open. Li lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters but won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros a few months later, beating Francesca Schiavone.
But after failing to advance past the fourth round at any major in 2012, Li hired Carlos Rodriguez, Justine Henin's former coach. The hard training he's put her through in the past four months appears to be paying dividends.
Li won a WTA tournament in China before travelling to Australia, where she advanced to the semifinals at the Sydney International.
In the men's final on Sunday, Novak Djokovic will attempt to win his third consecutive Australian Open against U.S. Open champion Andy Murray. Djokovic has had the benefit of an extra day off after an easy three-set win over David Ferrer on Thursday night, while Murray needed a tough five-setter to defeat Roger Federer.
Murray has predicted a tough match with long rallies against Djokovic, the player he beat in the final at Flushing Meadows in September.
"I'm ready for the pain," he said. "I hope it's a painful match, that will mean it will be a good one."
The Bryan brothers have six Australian Open doubles titles to go along with four at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the French Open.
In the other final Sunday to end the year's first Grand Slam, the unseeded pairs of Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden of Australia and the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak play for the mixed doubles championship.
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