World No 1 Victoria Azarenka survived a panic attack and a controversial time-out last night to stagger into the Australian Open final against China's Li Na.
Li stunned second seed Maria Sharapova to reach her second Australian final, ending the Russian's spectacular run with a 6-2 6-2 victory.
Azarenka dispatched 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens 6-1 6-4 - but not until Stephens had saved five match points and the top seed had left the court for a medical time-out.
She was checked on court for what appeared to be a back injury at 5-4 in the final set.
Azarenka also said later that she'd had chest pains and difficulty breathing in the 35-degree heat, but attributed that to a back issue.
Her back had to be "unlocked" when she was off court so she could breathe properly.
Azarenka had retired from her fourth-round Open match against Serena Williams in 2009 with heatstroke.
She admitted that, after wasting a series of match points, she suffered an anxiety attack.
"I almost did the choke of the year," Azarenka said.
"I had so many chances and I couldn't close it out.
"I was overwhelmed realising I was just one step away from the final and the nerves got the better of me."
She avoided a question by the on-court commentator about why she had left the court.
But later she said she had misunderstood it.
"When you cannot breathe you start to panic and you cannot convert the match point," Azarenka said.
"It was just so stressing me out, the pain that I had.
"As the doctor explained to me after, when the rib locks it blocks your diaphragm and you can't breathe.
"I thought I was going to play through the pain. I never had it before - that's what was freaking me out."
With Sharapova's loss, Azarenka will retain the world No 1 ranking.
The Russian made an ominous start against Li, with a double fault on the first point of her opening service game and saw herself broken for the first time in the tournament when she netted a return.
As Sharapova trailed 5-2 in the first set, it meant that in less than a set she had lost the same number of games as in her first five matches combined.
Leading up to the semi-finals, she had set a new Australian Open record in conceding just nine games in all her matches. AAP