Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Victoria Azarenka breezes to Australian Open victory

DOMINANT:Azarenka started slowly, dropping the first two games to Maria Sharapova, but the new world No. 1 found her groove and dominated the rest of the match

AFP, Melbourne, Australia

Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka reacts after defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia 6-3, 6-0 in the finals of the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Victoria Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title and became the new world No. 1 when she thrashed a disappointing Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final yesterday.

The third seeded Belarussian overpowered the 2008 champion to win 6-3, 6-0 in 82 minutes to lift the trophy and become the fourth women’s first-time Grand Slam winner in a row.

“I can’t wait to be back next year, I’ve had an amazing month in Australia. It’s a dream true,” Azarenka said.

Azarenka came from 0-2 down in the first set to win 12 of the next 13 games for a comprehensive victory, as Sharapova’s game disintegrated in the face of all-out aggression from the Belarussian.

Sharapova made 30 unforced errors, while Azarenka played almost flawlessly at times with only 12 errors across the two sets.

“As in any sport you have your good days you have your tough days and you have days where things just don’t work out. Today Victoria was just too good,” Sharapova said. “It all comes down to the last two athletes, winner takes it all after all the players in the draw. I’ve had great wins here and I’ve had tough losses, but there’s no doubt I’ll be back.”

Azarenka won the toss and chose to serve, but she started nervously and dished up two double faults on her way to dropping the first game.

Sharapova consolidated to open a 2-0 lead and got to 0-30 on Azarenka’s next game, but the Belarussian seemed to shake off her nerves and slowly took control.

She stepped up to the baseline and took the ball early, pressuring Sharapova into mistakes, and soon Azarenka was dominating in all departments, matching the Russian’s power from the baseline and volleying confidently.

The 22-year-old broke back in the fourth game and broke again in the eighth before confidently serving for the first set.

And Azarenka started the second set with the same self-belief, breaking Sharapova’s first serve and coming back from 15-40 to hold her own and open a 2-0 lead.

Sharapova was becoming increasingly frustrated and, unusually for the three-time Grand Slam winner, she began to look to her coach Thomas Hogstedt in frustration.

However, Azarenka was in full control and she broke Sharapova twice more to go to 5-0 lead.

The Belarussian stepped up to serve for the championship, saving a break point and falling to her knees in delight when a Sharapova backhand crashed into the net.

Azarenka, who won the girls’ singles crown in 2005, became only the third woman in the open era to win the junior and senior titles at the Australian Open after Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Chris O’Neil.

She is also the first Belarussian to win a Grand Slam title, going one better than Natasha Zvereva, who finished runner up at the French Open in 1998.

Sharapova has now been runner-up at two of the past three Grand Slams, after losing last year’s Wimbledon decider to Petra Kvitova.

The three-time Grand Slam winner had been attempting to win her first major title since coming back from major shoulder surgery in October, 2008.

Azarenka will be confirmed as world No. 1 in the new women’s rankings released next week, ending Caroline Wozniacki’s long stay at the top.

BOYS

Australian Open boys’ champion Luke Saville blamed “raw emotion” yesterday after he swore in his acceptance speech on center court.

The 17-year-old Australian beat Canada’s Filip Peliwo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena to go one better than last year, when he was defeated in the final by Czech Jiri Vesely.

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