Mon, Apr 06, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Teen Azarenka clinches her first major title

AFP , MIAMI

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hits a return to Serena Williams of the US during their women’s singles final at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Belarussian teenager Victoria Azarenka clinched the first major title of her career on Saturday by beating top seed and world No. 1 Serena Williams 6-3, 6-1 in the Miami WTA hard court final.

Williams, bidding to claim a record sixth title and third in a row, was badly affected by a left thigh injury that got worse as the match progressed. Despite the defeat, the American was already assured of hanging on to her No. 1 ranking for the 71st week of her career.

It was a poor quality final. The players reached 3-3 in the first set before Serena, who had defeated sister Venus in the semi-finals, began to feel her thigh, which was heavily-bandaged. From that point on, the reigning US and Australian Open champion managed to win just one more game.

Williams said she had been battling injury since her quarter-final victory over China’s Li Na.

“It was a little difficult moving to the left and a little bit to the right. A little forward was also difficult,” Williams said.

The American said she almost would have preferred to lose to her sister Venus in the semi-finals, except that then she would not have kept her world No. 1 ranking.

“So that was the only upside to it,” she said. “It was what it was. I gave the effort that I could give today. That’s all I could give.”

And she had praise for her young opponent, who had retired ill against Williams after taking a set off the American in the Australian Open fourth round in January.

“I think she has really, really improved,” Williams said. “I actually look forward to playing her again, so I can play a little better and obviously do better. But I think she obviously has potential and she’s going to be a really good player.”

Williams was under-powered with five double faults, only 54 percent of first serves successful and 34 unforced errors.

Azarenka tensed up as she served for the title. She double-faulted on her second match point, before wrapping up the trophy on her third.

“I was racked with fear,” the teenager said.

At 19, Azarenka claimed her first major title and the third of her career, all of which have been won this year with the previous two coming in Brisbane and Memphis. Her win here will elevate her to No. 8 in the world.

“It was a great honor to meet Serena in the final and even greater to win against her,” Azarenka said. “It’s only this season that I have started to believe in myself and to believe that I can win tournaments.”

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