x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Victoria Azarenka's dominance comes into focus

The Belarusian player has made the best start to a WTA season since 1997, winning 23 straight games.

Victoria Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova of Russia in the final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday. Robyn Beck / AFP
Victoria Azarenka beat Maria Sharapova of Russia in the final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday. Robyn Beck / AFP

The climax of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, the first No 1 versus No 2 WTA final since 2008, was an anticlimax. Victoria Azarenka thrashed Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-3, prompting pundits to agree that the tall Belarusian is playing at a particularly high level.

The proof? She has the best start to a WTA season since 1997.

Azarenka's ascendance to No 1, replacing Caroline Wozniacki in Melbourne, has been duly noted. But her extended dominance is just now coming into focus.

The apparent oversight might be blamed on Roger Federer, who seems on the cusp of taking over the men's game again. He won the men's side of the tournament at Indian Wells, dispatching Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals and John Isner in the final, and the marvellous Swiss has won three consecutive championships and lost only twice this year. As usual, he casts a long shadow.

Azarenka, however, is 23-0 in 2012, the best WTA mark out of the gate since Martina Hingis was 37-0 in 1997, when Azarenka was a seven-year-old prodigy in Minsk.

Sharapova, who lost heavily to the No 1 in the Australian Open final, as well, was impressed.

"She's extremely solid and she makes you work for every point," she said after the Indian Wells final.

"Maybe she forces you to want to do a little bit more than either you should or would want to.

"She's really fit, playing with a lot of confidence, and you can definitely sense that when she's moving around the court and hitting the ball."

Azarenka stampeded through the women's bracket, humbling three elite players. She excused the No 14 Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-1, the No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-4 and chewed up and spat out Sharapova in the final.

More signs of her superiority: she has won 46 of 51 sets this year, and no opponent has held match point against her.

She said maintaining concentration is the key to her early success.

"It's important to stay humble and to know that what I have been doing is working," Azarenka said. "Don't forget those little details. And being disciplined, professional off the court, is as important as being determined and really hard working on the court."

Perhaps the only discouraging words that might be levelled at Azarenka: she has not played Serena or Venus Williams this year, nor has she faced Petra Kvitova. Against those three, she is 3-12.

It is not her fault, of course, that none of them have been healthy enough or good enough to meet her in any of the four tournaments she has won. Indeed, criticism of her for failing to win matches not played perhaps is another indication of how good she has been.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae