World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka continued her perfect season with her first title at the BNP Paribas Open, blowing past former champion and World No. 2 Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday. It was just the third WTA final since 2005 featuring the top two women’s players.
The 22-year-old improved to a 23-0 match record and collected her fourth title of 2012, adding to her triumphs at Sydney, the Australian Open and Doha. She had also defeated Sharapova in straight sets in the Australian Open final, a victory that elevated her to No. 1 in the WTA Rankings.
"I know it's never gonna be easy, so every match I take it as important as any match it is, if it's the final of Australian Open or the first round," she said. "I could have been out here in the first round, but that's the importance of being on top of the game when you're not playing your best, trying your best every time, every point.
"I just really focused on every match at a time. I'm not thinking too much ahead, that I'm No. 1, I have to continue winning or something. I'm just trying to be the best player and the best person I can be on every single day. That kind of what works for me."
Azarenka began her first Indian Wells final with a break of serve, and comfortably raced out to a set and 3-0 lead before Sharapova earned one break back. The pair exchanged service breaks the next two games, before the Russian managed to hold for the first time in five games.
Sharapova would be broken one final time as she served to stay in the match. Azarenka celebrated with a victory run in front of her box after Sharapova’s return sailed long on championship point.
"When she has a little window open she always gonna take the opportunity and she's gonna fight no matter what the score is. I always know that," said Azarenka. "I really had to stay on my feet and keep putting that pressure and playing my game. It was a little bit difficult with the wind to control, but I handled the situation really good, and I'm really happy that I went through with this determination."
Sharapova, the 2006 Indian Wells champion, dropped to a 3-5 record against Azarenka with losses in four of their last five matches.
"She's extremely solid and she makes you work for every point," she said. "Ultimately I think maybe she forces you to want to do a little bit more than either you should or would want to. She's really fit, as well, playing with a lot of confidence, and you can definitely sense that when she's moving around the court and hitting the ball. I still feel like I just made too many unforced errors at the wrong time and wasn't solid enough."
Azarenka survived her sternest test of the tournament in her second-round opener against Mona Barthel, twice preventing the 37th-ranked German from serving out the match before prevailing in a third set tie-break after three hours. She won her each of her other five matches this week in less than an hour and a half.
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Photography: Michael Bradley