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Early domination lifts Azarenka

Victoria Azarenka’s second Sony Ericsson win features nine straight sweeps.

Associated Press

Victoria Azarenka’s second Sony Ericsson win features nine straight sweeps.

KEY BISCAYNE — Swapping shrieks with shots, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka made rallies sound like a car alarm.

Sharapova was the soprano, Azarenka the alto, and their alternating arias could be heard on the beach across the street from the Sony Ericsson Open.

But Sharapova was flat and her opponent sharp. Azarenka swept nine straight games to take charge Saturday and won the tournament for the second time, beating Sharapova 6-1, 6-4.

The final matched two of the most notorious grunters in tennis, and while both were noisy, Azarenka's shots had more bang. Sharapova committed 43 unforced errors, held serve only once and came up short with a late comeback bid.

"I played real well the first set," the No. 8-seeded Azarenka said. "Maria is such a great fighter, I knew she was going to fight to the end. She came up with great tennis at the end, and I had to hang in there. That's what paid off."

And who had the better shriek?

"I think mine is quieter," Azarenka said.

Sharapova committed eight errors in the first game. She lined one especially unsightly serve into the concrete in front of the net. By the time she found her range, Azarenka led 4-love in the second set.

"It's a little bit too late to pick up the pace when you're down a set and 4-love," Sharapova said. "I wish I picked it up earlier, obviously. She did many things better than I did today."

While the women's tournament was full of surprises, the men's draw is down to the game's top-ranked players. No. 1 Rafael Nadal plays for the championship today against No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who is 23-0 this year.

Sharapova lost in a final for the fourth time since her last title, at Strasbourg in May 2010. She's 0-3 in finals at Key Biscayne, where she was also the runnerup in 2005 and 2006.

But the three-time Grand Slam champion is healthy again after battling a series of injuries, and the results are starting to show. She's projected to climb this week to No. 9, her best since early 2009.

"It means that I'm winning matches, and winning more of them," she said. "It has been a long road to get here. It's not over yet."

Azarenka's also on the rise and projected to be ranked No. 6, matching a career best.

Serena and Venus Williams, who between them have won eight Key Biscayne titles, missed the tournament for health reasons. But Azarenka still faced a tough path to the final, beating No. 2 Kim Clijsters and No. 3 Vera Zvonareva in straight sets.

Azarenka, 21, avoided the emotional outbursts that derailed her in the past. She said that after losing in the third round at Dubai in February, she went home and reflected on the state of her game.

"I changed my mentality a little bit," she said. "I'm enjoying myself so much on the court that there's no room for me for frustration. I just don't care if I lose; what I mean is not to create such a big drama out of it."

.FAST FACTS

Today

No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 2 Novak Djokovic, Sony Ericsson Open final, 1 p.m., Key Biscayne. TV: Ch. 10

Early domination lifts Azarenka 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 8:38pm]
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