Top billing an easy role, so far, for unbeaten Azarenka

Top billing an easy role, so far, for unbeaten Azarenka

INDIAN WELLS, California - Reuters
Top billing an easy role, so far, for unbeaten Azarenka

AFP photo

Since breaking through with her first grand slam crown at the Australian Open in January, Victoria Azarenka has effortlessly grown into her role as the world’s top player.

The 22-year-old Belarusian has reigned supreme this season, compiling a perfect 23-0 record and winning her third title with a 6-2 6-3 demolition of Maria Sharapova in the final of the Indian Wells WTA tournament on March 18.

Azarenka had long been considered as a possible number onw and Russian Sharapova can certainly attest to her burgeoning status after being crushed by the Belarusian in their last two meetings.

“She was one of the players who has always had extreme potential to win a grand slam and be No. 1 in the world,” Sharapova told reporters after being broken six times by Azarenka in a one-sided final at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

“Many people expected that to happen sooner for her and were expecting her to get to a final of a grand slam earlier than she did.”

Azarenka reached that first grand slam final in Melbourne in January and made the most of the opportunity by pummeling Sharapova 6-3 6-0.

“She’s going through a period in her career where she’s extremely confident, extremely solid,” said the former world number one. “Nothing is really going wrong for her.

“Everything is a positive positive. When you’re against her, you’re playing against a good player and you have to figure out how to beat them. It hasn’t happened for me the last couple of times against her.”

Sharapova cautioned, though, that much can change before the end of this year.

“There is no doubt she’s the most dominant as far as this year goes ... just by the level of tennis and how she’s been able to keep it as well,” the 24-year-old said.

“It’s also another thing to maintain that level. We’ve got many more tournaments to go. Ultimately that is set at the end of the year and you kind of see who was where and who did how.”

Azarenka, whose other titles this season have come in Sydney and Doha, plans to deal with all the expectation and pressure she faces as world number one by maintaining the “one-match-at-a-time” strategy that has, so far, worked so well for her.

“I know it’s never gonna be easy, so every match I take it as important as any match, if it’s the final of Australian Open or the first round,” she smiled. “You know, I could have been out here in the first round.”

Azarenka was taken to a third set tiebreak in her opening match at Indian Wells against Germany’s Mona Barthel.

“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,” the Belarusian added.

“So I’m not thinking too much ahead, that I’m No. 1 and I have to continue winning or something like that. I’m just trying to be the best player and the best person I can be on every single day.”
Meanwhile, Roger Federer continued his red-hot run by dispatching surprise finalist John Isner 7-6 6-3 to become the first player to win the Indian Wells ATP tournament four times.

The Swiss world number three blunted the powerful serving of Isner with a controlled display, edging the American 9-7 in the first set tiebreak then breaking him twice in the second set to triumph in one hour and 21 minutes.

Federer clinched the title when the towering Isner, who upset world number one Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and will rise to a career-high 10th in the rankings on Monday, dumped a forehand into the net.

The Swiss, who had won three consecutive titles at Indian Wells from 2004-06, raised both arms skywards in celebration as the capacity crowd at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden erupted in applause.

“This tournament victory couldn’t come at a better time in my career,” Federer, who has triumphed six times in his last eight ATP World Tour events, told reporters while sitting beside the glittering crystal trophy.

“It’s a big tournament, the first Masters 1000 of the season. It’s been a long time since I have been this successful here, even though I have had some really good matches here in the past.”

Federer expressed a measure of surprise over his victory, having come close to withdrawing from the tournament before his opening match because of a lingering flu bug.

“I was not feeling great for five days overall and I definitely got lucky at the beginning of the tournament,” said the 30-year-old, who crushed his long-time rival Rafa Nadal 6-3 6-4 in the semis.

“But I was able to come through, and so convincingly at the end. I’ve really played amazing these last three matches in particular, so I couldn’t be more happy.”