For fans of world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, and for those who love to see a new champion emerge in the sport, the Belarussian’s 6-3 6-0 destruction of Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open 2012 final is a moment worth savouring.
The January 28 women’s showdown is one of the latest matches released as part of the AOTV Vault, where you can re-live classic matches and moments from the Australian Open championships. For Sharapova, it will be a match to erase from her memory.
It was heartening to see the Russian back in the Australian Open final after four years, the time between both appearances marred by a serious shoulder injury and surgery that sidelined her for almost a year, and from which the road back has been long and arduous. Her semifinal defeat of Petra Kvitova – who beat Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final – demonstrated her improved serve and return, and showcased her unbending will to win.
Yet Azarenka had stormed through the Australian Open draw in equally as impressive a fashion, coming off the title in Sydney and recording a career-defining victory over defending champion Kim Clijsters in a high-quality semifinal. Coming into the title bout, it seemed that on paper at least, Azarenka held the edge over her more experienced opponent.
Nerves threatened to derail Azarenka’s aspirations when the match got underway. She was broken in the opening game and soon found herself down 2-0, but to her credit, she settled quickly, breaking Sharapova back shortly after and beginning to find her range on her deep and consistent groundstrokes.
The set progressed evenly, with the two women trading big blows from the baseline. It wasn’t until 3-3 that Azarenka began to make her move. Fighting out a spectacular 17-shot rally, she yanked Sharapova all over the court before a captivated crowd, eventually drawing the Russian into net with a drop shot and then successfully lobbing her to hold for 4-3. Sharapova would not win another game.
Increasingly confident and pumped, Azarenka went on to take the opening set and, her belief rising, she romped through the second.
Displaying an intensity and relentlessness reminiscent of the great Monica Seles, Azarenka was simply in the zone, her reliable groundstrokes pushing Sharapova onto the back foot yet played with great margin for error. With her opponent not giving up any free points, Sharapova pressed in response, yet her tactic of hitting harder just resulted in more errors.
Symbolically, it was an error from Sharapova that handed Azarenka the title, and with it, the world No.1 ranking.
Azarenka’s Australian Open title formed part of a spectacular winning run that saw her go 26-0 to begin the season and included subsequent titles in Doha and Indian Wells. Firmly cemented in the No.1 spot, it took until the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami for Azarenka to taste defeat, something that has happened just three times for the entire year.