Season Review: Part 1

Victoria Azarenka was the woman to beat in a stellar opening three months of the 2012 season.

Published November 19, 2012 12:00

Season Review: Part 1
Victoria Azarenka

With four winners at the previous four majors and a four-way tussle for the No.1 spot, at the start of 2012 there was something of a power vacuum at the top of the WTA.

After a silverware-laden end to 2011, Petra Kvitova was many peoples' favorite to assume the mantle of top dog, but, instead, it was another young gun that took the tour by storm in the opening months of the season.

When Victoria Azarenka touched down in Australia at the start of January she was one of several talented twentysomethings waiting to make the transition from Top 10 player to Grand Slam contender. Twelve wins and two titles later, her coming of age was complete.

She got the ball rolling by picking up the title in Sydney, before travelling 600 miles down the coast to Melbourne, where she produced the best fortnight's tennis of her career to win her maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open.

However, it was not just the results Down Under that caught the eye, but the nature of her performances, showing grit, big-match temperament and no little skill to edge past defending champion Kim Clijsters in a semifinal thriller before going on to overwhelm Maria Sharapova in the final.

And the wins kept coming as the tour made its whistle-stop to the Middle East, with an imperious week in Doha, ending in another one-sided final, this time against Samantha Stosur.

Azarenka, though, was not the only player to enjoy a fruitful start to the season. Elsewhere, Kaia Kanepi, Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska also triumphed at the Premier-level events in Brisbane, Paris and Dubai, respectively.

For Kerber and Radwanska, these successes lit the touch paper on breakthrough campaigns for both, with the latter's remarkable consistency through the opening months only overshadowed by Azarenka's extraordinary feats over the same period.

Meanwhile, in doubles, there was silverware for several of the usual suspects, including Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci and Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. The biggest prize, though, ended up in unexpected hands as unseeded Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva snuck under the radar to take home the Australian Open.

Having skipped Dubai with an ankle injury, Azarenka returned to action in Indian Wells and when she trailed 4-1 in the final set of her first round with Mona Barthel, it looked like her flawless season was about to receive its first blemish.

Somehow, she survived, and made the most of her let-off, clinically dispatching Radwanska, Kerber and Sharapova to add a fourth trophy to an already overcrowded mantelpiece.

The World No.1 produced an even more staggering escapology act in Miami two weeks later, recovering from 61 40 down - and saving a match point - to defeat Dominika Cibulkova and extend her winning streak to 26 matches.

However, by this point, she was running on fumes and was no match for Marion Bartoli one round later, going down in the face of a barrage of double-fisted winners.

With the draw now shorn of the hitherto unbeatable Azarenka, the tournament was thrown wide open, and, fittingly, it was the tour's other pillar of consistency, Radwanska, who triumphed, outclassing Bartoli before outfoxing Sharapova to take home the biggest title of her career.

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