Victoria Azarenka claims Sydney title

SYDNEY -- Victoria Azarenka of Belarus overcame a second-set lapse Friday to beat 2011 champion Li Na 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 for the Sydney International singles title.

While much of the focus in Sydney had been on the battle for the No. 1 ranking between current holder Caroline Wozniacki and No. 2 Petra Kvitova, Azarenka consolidated her No. 3 ranking and indicated she'll be a threat in Melbourne for the Australian Open title beginning Monday.

After games had stayed on serve until 4-3 in the deciding set, Azarenka broke Li to get a chance to serve out the match. She saved two break points in the process.

Despite the loss, French Open champion Li has plenty of confidence heading to Melbourne -- she is 18-2 in singles matches in Australia since the start of last year. Her only other loss in her last four tournaments Down Under came in last year's Australian Open final against Kim Clijsters.

Earlier, veteran Jarkko Nieminen beat Denis Istomin 7-6 (12), 6-3 to advance to the men's final Saturday.

Nieminen, the 2009 Sydney runner-up, will play Julien Benneteau of France, who needed six match points to beat 2010 Sydney champion and former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

Benneteau, serving for the match, needed more than 13 minutes to finish off the final game.