SYDNEY - Third-seeded Belarusian Victoria Azarenka defeated reigning champion Li Na in Friday's final at the $637,000 Sydney International tennis tournament, a final Australian Open tuneup.
Azarenka earned a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 victory after employing a strong return game in the third set at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre. She won 52 percent of the points on return and broke Li twice, while also saving 3-of-4 break points.
She picked up her ninth career title and won a second consecutive match against Li, having defeated her in the season-ending WTA Championships last year. The 22-year-old is 3-4 all-time against Li, who won their meeting in last season's Aussie Open on the way to a final appearance.
The fourth-seeded Li was seeking her sixth career title, but appears to have improved form after a rough end to 2011. She captured her first major title at the French Open, but reached the semifinals of just one more tournament the rest of the year.
Azarenka earned $107,000 for winning the tournament, whose draw featured nine of the top 10 women in the world.
Benneteau to face Nieminen
SYDNEY - Frenchman Julien Benneteau defeated former Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis in Friday's semifinals at the $434,250 Sydney International tennis event, a final Aussie Open tuneup. Saturday's other finalist will be Finnish veteran Jarkko Nieminen.
Baghdatis, coming off a big win over top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, was broken four times by Benneteau en route to a 6-4, 6-4, setback on the hardcourts at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre.
The 49th-ranked Benneteau will face the qualifier Nieminen on Saturday after the Finn posted a 7-6 (14-12), 6-3 victory over fellow qualifier Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan on Day 5.
Nieminen has won all four ATP meetings against his fellow 30-year-old Benneteau.
Benneteau is winless in five ATP finals, including a loss in Winston-Salem last year, while the world No. 77 Nieminen is 1-10 in his career finals, with his lone victory coming at the Aussie tuneup in Auckland back in 2006. He was the runner-up here in Sydney in 2009.
Saturday's winner will earn $78,360.
Ferrer, Rochus make it to Auckland final
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Top-seeded world No. 5 David Ferrer and Olivier Rochus were a pair of semifinal winners Friday at the Heineken Open, a final hardcourt Australian Open tuneup.
The two-time Auckland champion Ferrer, who bested Argentine star David Nalbandian in last year's finale, rolled past third-seeded fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-4 to reach the finale. It marked the second match of the day for both players after rain washed away some quarterfinal play here on Thursday.
Earlier Friday, Ferrer held off Colombian Alejandro Falla 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, while Verdasco handled fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5, 6-4 in the round of eight.
The Belgian Rochus, meanwhile, rallied from a first-set loss to oust eighth- seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, 6-4 at ASB Tennis Centre. Kohlschreiber was the Auckland champ in 2008.
The 29-year-old Ferrer is 11-14 in his career finals, while the 30-year-old Rochus is 2-7, with his last title coming six years ago. Ferrer reached six finals last season, going 2-4.
Ferrer is 5-2 lifetime against Rochus, who won a quarterfinal match here against the Spaniard back in '06.
The 2012 Auckland champion will collect $71,900.
Wickmayer, Barthel reach Hobart final
HOBART, Australia - Top-seeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer and German qualifier Mona Barthel were semifinal winners Friday at the $220,000 Moorilla Hobart International tennis event.
Barthel upended defending champion Jarmila Gajdosova in the quarterfinals, then defeated fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber by a 6-0, 7-6 (7-6) score. Barthel converted 4-of-7 break point chances in the victory against her compatriot.
Wickmayer pulled out a first-set tiebreaker on her way to a 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 win against sixth-seeded Israeli Shahar Peer. The Belgian had 12 break-point chances and converted five of them.
Wickmayer has won her only previous meeting with Barthel, who has never before appeared in a WTA final. Wickmayer is 3-3 all-time in finals, and hasn't won a tourney since claiming the Auckland crown in January 2010.
The winner of this final Australian Open tuneup will earn $37,000.