Sharapova, Azarenka set to clash for title, top spot

Sharapova, Azarenka set to clash for title, top spot

MELBOURNE - Agence France-Presse
Sharapova, Azarenka set to clash for title, top spot

Maria Sharapova will try to claim her first Grand Slam victory in four years as she faces Victoria Azarenka in the final of the Australian Open.

Three-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova takes on debut finalist Victoria Azarenka on Jan. 28 in a high-stakes battle for the Australian Open title and the top ranking.

Sharapova won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004, captured the US Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 but a nine-month injury lay-off with shoulder problems starting later that year saw her tumble down the rankings.

The former world number one, seeded fourth in Melbourne, reached the semifinals at last year’s French Open and the final at Wimbledon as she continued her rise back to the top of the game.
Now she has the chance once again to top the rankings, with the winner of the final guaranteed to replace Caroline Wozniacki as number one.

Azarenka, by contrast, has little pedigree at the sharp end of grand slam tournaments, with her best performance coming at last year’s Wimbledon, where she reached the semi-finals.

But Sharapova, 24, said experience was not everything as last year’s final at the All England Club showed when she lost out to Petra Kvitova, playing in her first grand slam title match.

“I played Petra in her first grand slam final,” the Russian said. “She played really high quality tennis out there on the grass, and she went out there and it didn’t really affect her.
“Even though Victoria hasn’t really been in that stage of a grand slam before, she’s certainly won big titles and she has the experience.

“This is a stage she’s wanted to be at for a long time, so I do expect her to play really good tennis.”
A smiling Azarenka, 22, said she had grown as a player and learned from previous experiences.
Two years ago in Melbourne she had Serena Williams on the ropes in the quarter-finals, leading by a set and 4-0 before letting the eventual champion off the hook.

“I had, how do you call it, meltdowns? There you go,” a relaxed Azarenka said. 

“Yeah, I had some. For sure you can see some on YouTube. But, you know, I grow as a player, I grow as a person, and I try to learn from my mistakes and make it better.

“So I’m proud of what I’m doing. I just want to keep going and keep raising that level.”
Azarenka said she was not worried about Sharapova’s greater experience in majors.

“It’s no concern for me. I worked hard to be in this situation, so why stress about it?” she said. “I want it and that’s what I’m looking for, so I’m just going to go out there and try to do my best.”
The two players have previously played six times previously with three wins apiece. In the two finals they have contested the Belarusian has come out on top.