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The eternal bridesmaid, Victoria Azarenka finally stepped out of the shadow and into the limelight as she captured her first slam with a stunning 6-3, 6-0 victory over Maria Sharapova. In a scoreline that slightly belied the ebbs and flows of the match, Azarenka overcame a nervy start, came up tops by taking the initiative at a crucial moment in the first set, stamped her domination and maintained her composure at the finish line, before sinking to her knees to celebrate a richly deserved triumph. In a case of having her cake and eating it too, Azarenka also took over the No.1 ranking, toppling slamless Wozniacki from her long held perch, as her cup of joy overfloweth.
For Sharapova it was a case of dÃ©jÃ vu as just months after being overpowered by Kvitova at Wimbledon, she once again came out second best against the new generation in the big game. Her path back though has only grown stronger and with her serve now getting back to its original level, is sure to remain a threat and another slam shouldn't be too far away.
Sharapova, was understandably a touch downcast, but was gracious in giving due credit to her opponent reminding her to cherish this moment for as long as she could. She was philosophical about the vicissitudes of life of tennis champions, a sign of maturity, and was expectant of better moments ahead. Azarenka, was gleeful at receiving the Daphne Ackhurst trophy and struggled for words. Magnanimous in victory she congratulated Sharapova and the emotions welling up in her were obvious as she thanked all those who made the triumph possible.
Both women are strikingly similar and have reasonably similar styles of play. They started off their finale in diametrically opposite manners though. Azarenka, in her first final, dual double faulted her first service game away in a nervy start. Sharapova with business-like assurance went up 2-0 and when Victoria double faulted a third time to fall behind 0-30 in her second service game, things looked to just be unravelling for the third seed. Instead Azarenka laughed it off and held courtesy a forehand twirl cross court and a booming winner down the line. This settled the nerves and propelled the Belarussian to break back to love before taking the lead for the first time with a hold to 15. Arresting a run of 12/13 points is never easy but Maria is a fighter and despite being pushed found a way to hold with an ace to level the match at 3-3. By now the duo were really finding their feet with Azarenka pulling off a delectable dropshot lob combo and Maria responding with a magnificent wrong-footing backhand on the dead run. Vika though, was really beginning to get her teeth into the match and in the 8th game she made a telling move. In a departure from the match norm she took the initiative making approaches off either flank before putting away the volleys to setup breakpoint which she converted courtesy a delightful dropshot giving her the volley into the open court. Serving for the set in your first major can be a really tough exercise but Azarenka remained unfazed to serve out the crucial first set 6-3.
Sharapova began the second set with a definitive intention of stepping up the pace and jolting Azarenka out of the dangerous rhythm that she was in. Such a strategy, while understandable, given that she was winning just 18% of the baseline exchanges, was fraught with risk. With errors spewing Sharapova gave Vika an early look at break point and she needed no second invitation, guessing right, making the forehand pass to break. Right then, Azarenka was waltzing through â€“ despite a few missteps, she got through a tough service game to consolidate her lead and another smattering of errors gave Vika the insurance break in a remarkable run of 9/10 games. Breaking a third time to 5-0 gave Azarenka a stranglehold that Sharapova would need every bit of her undoubted gumption to get out of. Serving for the set is difficult, serving for the championships can be crippling and Sharapova got a stroke of luck as a net cord dribbled over to give her a break point and a chance to inject that little bit of doubt. There was nothing of that though, as she played ot the remaining points in style to finish a deserved winner.
(3) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. (4) Maria Sharapova (RUS) 6/3, 6/0
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