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Azarenka wins Australian Open, grabs No. 1 ranking

By Bill Scott –

MELBOURNE — Victoria Azarenka achieved a dream on Saturday as she defeated former champion Maria Sharapova, 6-3, 6-0, for the Australian Open title and took over the WTA’s No. 1 ranking.

The third seed from Belarus denied the Russian her fourth Grand Slam title and second in Melbourne after a triumph in 2008.

“Thanks to my team for supporting me for so long and believing in me, I can believe in myself and finally raise this trophy,” said the winner, sometimes on the verge of tears.

Azarenka also thanked her grandmother, “the person who inspires me most in the world.

“I’ve loved coming back to Melbourne since I was a junior. I’ve had an amazing month in Melbourne, this is a dream come true.”

The Belarus player won the junior title in Melbourne in 2005 and becomes only the third woman to back it up with the senior crown. The last two to do it were Chris O’Neil and Evonne Goolagong in the 1970s.

Azarenka rallied from a break down in the first set by winning 12 of the 13 remaining games for her first Grand Slam trophy to leave Sharapova 3-3 in major finals.

“Congratulations to Victoria,” said a disappointed Sharapova. “It was an honor to play you. You earned the title and worked so hard for it over the years — cherish it for as long as you can.”

The rout in just under 90 minutes marked the third win in a final for Azarenka over Sharapova, with the 22-year-old taking the honors at Stanford in 2010 and Miami last spring.

“In any sport you have good days and tough days, it didn’t work out for me today,” said Sharapova. “Victoria was better than me on so many levels, she was too good.

“It comes down to the last two athletes and the winner takes all. It’s been a few years since I was back here. I’ve had some tough losses and this was another one. But I have no doubt I’ll be back.”

The new rankings will feature Azarenka ahead of Czech Petra Kvitova, with Sharapova on third and former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki fourth.

Azarenka lost the first game of the match in one of her few mistakes of the evening. She broke Sharapova back to love in the fourth game, then ran away with the opening set in 45 minutes.

The second set continued in the same vein, with the third-seeded challenger going up two quick breaks as she thrived on the pace from Sharapova’s returns in the battle of the sport’s scream queens.

Azarenka’s previous best at a Grand Slam was a Wimbledon semifinal in 2011; she now owns 10 career titles and remains undefeated this season after starting with a trophy in Sydney a fortnight ago.

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