BEIJING, China - With her lethal combination of power and consistency, World No.1 Victoria Azarenka was just too solid for Maria Sharapova in the final of the China Open on Sunday evening in Beijing, completely outclassing the World No.2, 63 61, to conquer the prestigious Premier Mandatory tournament.
Azarenka always had an edge over Sharapova under these circumstances, winning their last five hardcourt meetings and four of their last five finals - and this time those trends converged on the National Tennis Stadium in the Chinese capital, as the Belarusian matched the Russian in the power department but kept it coming back over and over again with the utmost of consistency.
Meanwhile, Sharapova struggled to find the court when it mattered most, finishing the match with a -21 winners-to-unforced errors differential (18 to 39); Azarenka had a negative differential too, but a far cleaner -7 (7 to 14).
After an hour and 27 minutes and one last Sharapova forehand error it was all over, and Azarenka hoisted her lucky 13th WTA trophy, but perhaps more importantly her first since Indian Wells over six and a half months ago.
"I was doing the right things, making sure I didn't let Maria play the game she likes, always being in control and dominating," Azarenka said. "Of course it wasn't possible for me to do that every single point, but for the most part I was trying to keep up with her rhythm, and when I had the chance just try to step it up and be in control myself. I tried to take that opportunity and move forward.
"As for her mistakes, I'm not really looking for them, but I'm looking to provoke them, looking to make them happen. She's not just going to stay there and miss - it's something maybe I've done to make her miss those balls.
"To win the China Open is a dream for me, because I've never been able to do so well here - so to overcome that and win such a big title at the end of the year is just incredible. I'm really happy I came and I conquered here."
Azarenka has Linz and the WTA Championships left on her 2012 schedule.
"I have two more tournaments to play, about 10 more matches," Azarenka said. "I'm looking forward to maximizing the potential in all of them. I'm really happy that in the end of the year I still have that determination I had in the beginning of the year, that desire to go out there and show my best tennis and win."
Sharapova, who was seeking her first WTA title since winning the French Open almost four months ago, still has an excellent 27-18 WTA finals record.
"Victoria played a really good match - she just did many things much better than I did," Sharapova said. "I felt like when I had the chance, in situations where I had opportunities to get back in the set or in the match, I was just making errors. They were little windows, but as small as they were, I just didn't take them. Against somebody who is No.1 in the world, you can't do that.
"But I came here not having played at a high level in Tokyo, and with every match I was playing better here - it's unfortunate to lose in the final, but after the results I've had here in the past, this was definitely a step in the right direction."
Sharapova will now prepare for the WTA Championships. "It's the last one of the year. It's a great achievement to get in that spot - it's always a goal in the beginning of the year. You want to be one of the girls to make the last eight.
"I've been part of that tournament for many years. I'm really looking forward to it. Everyone in that draw has had a tremendous year and is a really good player. It will be tough, but I have a couple of weeks to prepare and get ready."