DOHA, Qatar - Victoria Azarenka fought injury and an even bigger target on her back but emerged victorious in Doha this week, not even losing a set en route to her third straight WTA title at the Premier-level Qatar Total Open.
Playing her first tournament as the new World No.1, Azarenka stepped it up in a big way, not even losing a set all week - in fact losing fewer games en route to a WTA title than anyone so far this year with 18 (the fewest before this was 29). Additionally, she injured her ankle during her semifinal match with No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, but closing that match out anyway, 62 64.
The No.1-seeded Azarenka was in particularly crushing form against No.3 seed Samantha Stosur in the final. After Stosur held at love to open the match, Azarenka came out firing right away, winning nine straight games from there to build a 61 30 lead. Stosur started getting her teeth into the match with a few holds towards the end but it was just too late, as Azarenka finished off a 61 62 victory, her sixth straight set victory their six career meetings.
"I think that one point at the beginning of the match really saved my butt a little bit - you know, I hit the net," Azarenka said. "But I was trying to be really aggressive and not let her command it, because that's what she likes to do. She has a huge serve, and the first shot, that's where she puts the opponent on the run, and you run so far behind the baseline. I tried to take that away from her.
"It feels amazing to win this title. I have been coming here quite a few times, also for the WTA Championships, and I never even reached the final, so for me it's extra special to win here. I really like this tournament a lot."
And the aforementioned ankle? "It's not as bad as it could have been," Azarenka said. "I have a couple of days to recover before Dubai and see how I feel. Right now I just want to enjoy the moment and not think ahead too much."
Azarenka improved her perfect start to 2012 to 17-0, the best start to a season since Maria Sharapova went 18-0 to start 2008. The 22-year-old Belarusian won her 11th WTA title, improving to 11-8 in her career in WTA finals.
The 27-year-old Stosur fell to 3-11 in WTA finals, but the run to the final was a return to form for her following a disappointing Australian swing in January.
"For sure I'm happy with the week I've had," Stosur commented. "It's been great to turn my form around so quickly after a disappointing month first up.
"As far as tonight goes, I think she played very well, very solid, as usual. She doesn't stand up and hit 50 winners a match, but she makes you work for every point and moves very well, stays on the baseline and really takes time away from you that way. It was obviously pretty tough for me to play aggressively.
"Victoria is very good at neutralizing everything. Pace doesn't really seem to bother her. You've got to find another way to win against her."
The No.1 seeds also came out on top in the doubles, with Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond winning an all-American final against Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, 63 61. The 60-minute victory brought Huber and Raymond their sixth WTA title together, following Toronto, the US Open, Tokyo and the WTA Championships last year, as well as Paris [Indoors] just last week.
Both members of the winning doubles team reached milestones by virtue of the victory: Huber collected her 50th WTA doubles title, the 15th woman in the Open Era to reach that number; and Raymond got her 76th WTA doubles title, tying Jana Novotna for sixth place all-time on that Open Era list.
"It feels great. It feels great," Raymond beamed afterwards. "Coming off a win last week in Paris and to be able to back it up, to come here to Doha and fight through some tough matches, especially at the beginning of the week, it feels great. And to win a convincing final the way we did today, as well."