Saturday, 28 January 2012

Victoria Azarenka wins the Australian Open

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka was crowned as the winner of the Australian Open and the new world number one as she produced a terrific performance in the final to defeat Maria Sharapova, 6-3 6-0.  This is the fourth time in a row that a new female Grand Slam champion has been crowned as Azarenka finally delivered on the big stage.  Azarenka did not start the match well and after two shaky double faults in the opening game, she quickly fell 2-0 down.  At 0-30 in the next game, Azarenka managed to hold serve and get that all important foothold in the match with a gorgeous backhand down-the-line to settle the nerves.  

Azarenka started to find her range midway through the first set and displayed superb variety to take a 4-3 lead with the best point of the first set as she beautifully executed the slice, drop shot and lob all in one point.  The momentum was well and truly with Azarenka who broke Sharapova in the next game and then confidently served out the 46 minute first set.  It was a high quality set of tennis with some pounding rallies from the baseline.  Azarenka was the more consistent player with 8 winners to 9 unforced errors compared to Sharapova's 9 winners and 15 unforced errors.  Azarenka's ability to finish points off at the net was particularly impressive as she was 5/5 on net approaches.

The second set was not as good as the first as Azarenka totally ran away with the match.  She dealt with Sharapova's immense power from the back of the court and was able to get her on the run and expose her weaker movement.  Azarenka also seemed to be guessing Sharapova's every move and she did that on the first game of the second set to break.  The games kept coming for Azarenka as Sharapova just could not break down the Belarusian from the baseline and was always the first to make the unforced error.  Sharapova committed another unforced error to hand Azarenka her first opportunity to serve out for the Championships.  There was a brief resistance from Sharapova as she found winners on both the forehand and backhand, and then had a break point with a slice of luck from the net; however Azarenka was not to be undone as she saw off the break point and served out on her first match point.

Maria Sharapova
Azarenka was positively beaming afterwards and rightfully so! She has finally delivered on the big stage and looks like the real deal.  Unlike the past three Grand Slam champions who all had dips in form following their Grand Slam triumph, I do not see that happening with Azarenka.  She has a consistency to her game that means that her game rarely breaks down and a belief too that she belongs at the top of the rankings.  I have always felt that Azarenka has almost lived in the shadows of Caroline Wozniacki; they are similar in age but Wozniacki made the ascent to the upper echelons of the game that bit quicker than Azarenka and seemed to receive all the attention on the tennis court.  I always thought Azarenka was the more talented player and am delighted to see her finally reached her potential in the game to snatch the number one spot from the Dane, who will now fall to number 4 in the world rankings.

It has been a fabulous tournament for Sharapova but a disappointing performance in the final.  I must say that she gave one of the most classy speeches I have heard in quite a while and was so complimentary of Azarenka, which really brought a smile to my face.  Although the final was one-sided which I never like to see, the fact we saw such a courageous performance from a new Grand Slam champion made it a worthy and memorable final.  I finally feel the WTA tour has turned a corner and is on the way upwards after several disappointing years.  We finally have players who can perform on the big stage in Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova who are ready to take the reins from the likes of Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.  I really cannot wait to see what the rest of 2012 has in store for the WTA...

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