A year ago, Victoria Azarenka went a long way to winning more friends when she went on a charm offensive after securing her first grand slam title here.

Yesterday, she lost them all again. The Belarussian is a tough character to warm to. The crowd on Rod Laver Arena were already amusing themselves by mimicking her wailing noise as she hit the ball, when she gave them something to really get annoyed out.

Leading the American teenager Sloane Stephens by a set and 5-3, Azarenka squandered five match points and dropped serve, before consulting the trainer. The world No.1 then left the court for treatment, leaving 19-year-old Stephens, who had beaten Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, sitting by the side of the court, rather bemused.

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Ten minutes later Azarenka returned and promptly broke serve to win 6-1, 6-4 before telling the crowd: "I almost did the choke of the year. At 5-3, I had so many chances but I couldn't close it out. I felt a little bit overwhelmed that I was close to another final."

It was a bizarre moment, especially as the American broadcaster ESPN had been told Azarenka had been treated "for knee and rib injuries".

The official Australian Open rules state that a medical timeout should be three minutes, once it's been evaluated. Azarenka took around 10 minutes but later tried to suggest that her explanation had been a case of miscommunication.

"I understand the whole situation right now but it just really is simple misunderstanding of a question," she said, of the on-court interview. "I guess it was my bad. I should have called the trainer a little bit earlier, before I got to the point that I couldn't really breathe and had to go off court."

Azarenka said the treatment had "unlocked her rib" and that she would be fine for tomorrow's final, against Li Na of China, who stunned Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 to reach the final here for the second time in three years.

Whatever the truth of Azarenka's injury time-outs – the umpire's scorecard said she had two back-to-back breaks – Li is going to be a big crowd favourite in the final.

The 30-year-old Li, who became the first Chinese player to win a grand slam singles title when she lifted the French Open in 2011, played one of her best matches since then as she ended Sharapova's title hopes.

She has been a darling of the Melbourne crowd since she lost in the final two years ago to Kim Clijsters. During that run and again this year, she has entertained fans with more witticisms about her husband and former coach Jiang Shan, who she once said was disrupting her sleep because of his snoring.

"I have to say thanks to Crown Tower because they gave me a massive room this year," she said. "So if he snores now I can just kick him out."