January 29, 2012

Victoria Azarenka sweeps Australian Open and takes world No.1 spot (3 PHOTOS)

VICTORIA Azarenka dropped to her knees and touched her head to the ground, then rose as the world's new No.1 with a shrug and a look of disbelief.

Azarenka's stunning 6-3 6-0 victory over Maria Sharapova to claim the Australian Open crown - her maiden grand slam title - propelled the Belarussian to the top of the rankings.

It did not take long for her look of confusion to turn to a broad grin.

"Wow," she beamed before her voice began to crack.

"I would like to thank my team - you guys have been supporting me for so long and believing in me, and it made me realise that I can believe in myself and I can finally raise this trophy.

"I want to thank my parents, who are watching for sure now, my friends, my boyfriend and my grandmother, the person who inspires me the most in my life.

"I had an amazing month in Australia and it's a dream come true."

It was the first time since Serena Williams defeated Dinara Safina to win the 2009 Australian Open that the No.1 ranking was decided by the outcome of a grand slam final.

Azarenka hit the top for the first time in her career from No.3, while Petra Kvitova stayed at No.2, Sharapova moved up one place to No.3 and Caroline Wozniacki - who lost the No.1 spot with her quarter-final defeat to Kim Clijsters - slid to fourth.

Had Sharapova won, she would have returned to the top spot she took for the first time in 2005 and last held in 2008 before a shoulder problem kept her out of the game for nearly 10 months.

Projections for the new rankings released tomorrow have Australia's Sam Stosur remaining at No.5.

Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost to Azarenka in the quarter-finals, moves to a career-high No.6. Last year's Australian Open runner-up Li Na drops from sixth to ninth and Andrea Petkovic, who missed this year's tournament with a back injury, stays in 10th.

Sharapova was gracious in defeat.

"The first congratulations go to Victoria - it is an honour to play against you, you've earned this title, you've worked so hard for it over the years," she said.

"It's a real honour to have your name on that trophy, congratulations and cherish it for as long as you can."

Azarenka and Sharapova went into the match having played each other six times, splitting the wins 3-3, although the Belarussian had won each of the two finals they had played, both on hardcourt, in 2010 and 2011.

After conceding a 0-2 lead, Azarenka pulled back to 2-2.

She became highly aggressive on Sharapova's serve in the eighth game, coming into the net to apply more pressure and making the crucial break with a great backhand drop shot followed up with a sharp backhand volley.

Serving out the next game, Azarenka converted her first of two set points.

The 22-year-old continued to play the better tennis in the second set, even in the face of some nervy moments early on.

Sharapova persisted with her tactic of pounding the ball back over the net hard and flat, while Azarenka kept changing her game up to completely dominate and confound her opponent.

She claimed victory on her first championship point when the Russian netted a backhand.

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