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Azarenka Wins Second Sony Ericsson Open

Victoria Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova for her second Sony Ericsson Open title in three years.

Published April 02, 2011 12:00

Azarenka Wins Second Sony Ericsson Open
Victoria Azarenka

MIAMI, FL, USA - Having gone to three sets in each of her first three matches, not many were talking about her being a contender for the title early on in the tournament; but when it came to crunch time nobody could stop her. Victoria Azarenka claimed the Sony Ericsson Open for the second time in her career, defeating Maria Sharapova in Saturday afternoon's final, 61 64.

At Indian Wells, Azarenka had to retire from her quarterfinal with a hip injury, and some weren't sure if she would make it to Miami. She did, and it took some time for the No.8 seed to find her range, as she went the distance against her first three opponents - Lucie Hradecka, Dominika Cibulkova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - she was down 63 31 to Cibulkova but won, 36 63 64.

From then on, Azarenka was a world-beater. She defied a 1-4 head-to-head to beat No.2 seed Kim Clijsters in the quarters, 63 63, then another lopsided head-to-head, 2-6, in beating No.3 seed Vera Zvonareva in the semis, 60 63.

Facing No.16 seed Sharapova in the final, Azarenka picked up right where she left off in her last two matches, her huge ground game propelling her to 61 40, seemingly headed for her most lopsided win of the tournament. A three-time Grand Slam champion, Sharapova fought to win four of the next five games to close that lead to 61 54, but her Belarusian opponent finished her off.

"It's a bit too late to pick up the pace when you're down a set and 4-0. I wish I picked it up earlier," Sharapova said. "Against a player like her you have to have that level from the start or she's going to go with it and only get better."

"She likes to swing big when she has the time, so I tried to take time away from her," Azarenka said. "It seemed she was missing a lot because of my game. In the end she stepped it up - I wasn't doing anything wrong, she was just going for her shots. I had to really hang in there and keep playing my game."

Azarenka now has two Sony Ericsson Open titles, having won here in 2009 as well. They are her two biggest titles and Miami is the only tournament she has repeated at - her other four titles came at Brisbane and Memphis in 2009 and Stanford and Moscow in 2010. She is now 6-6 in career WTA finals.

"I played very well in Indian Wells but got injured; for me to come here without practicing enough and step up my game so well is amazing," Azarenka said. "I have to thank my physio, JP, who did an incredible job for me to play here."

Azarenka also showed some impressive calm under pressure. "I changed my mentality a bit. I'm enjoying myself so much on the court that there's no room for frustration. People want to see me emotional - they like it - but this is how I am right now. I just don't care if I lose. I'm just there to do the best I can.

"What I mean by not caring about losing is just not creating such a big drama out of it. If you lose, you lose. It's not the end of the world. It sounds a bit out there, but with what happened in Japan, for example, we're here playing tennis, being able to do something we love. So why make a big deal out of it?"

And what will she do with the $700,000 winner's cheque? "Well, you have to pay taxes from it, so it rips your heart out," she joked. "I actually have absolutely everything I want in my life. Money won't make me happy. But I can't complain."

Sharapova's path to the final included a 64 61 win over No.4 seed Sam Stosur in the 16s, followed by three-setters in her last two rounds, a 36 76(6) 76(5) quarterfinal win over No.26 seed Alexandra Dulgheru (at three hours and 28 minutes, the longest match of the tournament) and a 36 60 62 semifinal win over No.21 seed Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic had been a giant-killer, taking out No.1 seed Caroline Wozniacki and No.6 seed Jelena Jankovic beforehand.

Sharapova, who is now 22-12 in career WTA finals, will return to the Top 10 on Monday's rankings. It will be her 240th week in the elite - her first 239 all came consecutively from July 5, 2004 (right after she won Wimbledon) to February 1, 2009 (right after she missed the Australian Open due to a shoulder injury).

"I'm very, very happy about what I've achieved in the last three or four weeks," Sharapova said. "If you saw me 10 weeks ago after I pulled out of Paris, I was in no shape or form to even play a tournament. So it's amazing I even achieved that. I went to Indian Wells without a lot of expectations - I was sick for almost three weeks. I got myself back in it and I'm definitely proud of that."

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