Victoria Azarenka insisted the need for a medical time-out late in her Australian Open semi-final win over Sloane Stephens was genuine and not an act of gamesmanship.
Defending champion Azarenka headed to the locker room for attention immediately after squandering five match points in trying to serve out the match against her 19-year-old opponent.
She returned 10 minutes later to win the next game and complete a 6-1 6-4 win.
In her post-match press conference, she explained she was suffering from a locked rib which left her struggling to breathe.
Yet in the on-court interview straight after her victory, she made no mention of the injury and hinted she had simply required time to calm her nerves.
When asked why she had to leave the court, she said: “I almost did the choke of the year. At 5-3 and having so many chances, I couldn’t close it out.
“I felt a little bit overwhelmed and, realising I was one step away, nerves got into me.”
The world No 1 emerged to face the media an hour later and explained she had misunderstood the question put to her by Sam Smith, the former British Fed Cup player, who now works for host broadcaster Channel Seven.
She said: “I understand the whole situation right now but it was just a simple misunderstanding of a question. I guess that’s my bad.”
Azarenka claimed the rib injury flared up at 4-2 in the second set and admitted she should have asked for medical assistance before she did. The world No 1 needs to beat Li Na in the final to retain that ranking.
Li brushed aside Maria Sharapova to reach her second Melbourne final, winning 6-2 6-2.
Sharapova had broken a tournament record in conceding just nine games in reaching the last four, but she was overwhelmed by the Chinese, whose heavy-hitting, high-risk game reaped maximum reward.