With a powerful game, million-watt smile and sly sense of humor, Victoria Azarenka has all the tools necessary to become a force in women’s tennis — except marquee wins.
She took a step toward changing that part of the equation Sunday, dominating Maria Sharapova to win the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford’s Taube Family Tennis Stadium.
Azarenka, seeded eighth, won the final 15 points of a 6-4, 6-1 victory, which vaulted her six spots in the WTA Tour rankings to No. 12.
It was the first title of an injury-plagued season and came one day after her 21st birthday. Afterward, a beaming Azarenka was focused on a simple goal: “I want cake and ice cream,” she said. “Something besides salmon.”
Azarenka certainly earned a temporary respite from health food, and she seems poised for a few more trips down the dessert aisle.
She lost just one set all week and closed out the tournament with victories over the defending champion (Marion Bartoli), the top seed (Samantha Stosur) and a three-time Grand Slam champion (Sharapova).
When asked what a successful hard-court season would look like, Azarenka insisted that her sweet tooth won’t be satiated by her victory Sunday.
“Obviously, I want to win every single match,” the Belarusian said. “I just want to keep going the same way.”
She certainly is headed in the right direction.
Azarenka’s talent is undeniable, but she often has struggled with her mental approach in tight
spots and has had trouble closing out matches against top-flight opponents — including a loss to Sharapova last season when she gave away a 5-2 third-set lead.
The anxiety was ramped up at the end of the first set, but after wasting four set points, Azarenka finally took the set when the fifth-seeded Sharapova missed wide with a backhand.
Azarenka was shaking during the awards ceremony, but she didn’t show any nerves as the final point neared.
Already up a break in the second set, Azarenka broke at love to jump ahead 4-1. She kept the pressure on, sweeping the final two games to wrap up her fourth career title.
“I knew (Sharapova) was going to fight, so I had to be on top of her every moment and not let her come back in the second set,” Azarenka said. “It was important for me to push forward. I have a lot more weapons now.”
Sharapova’s weapons melted under the hot sun, which appeared to bother her after a week of night matches. She was inconsistent with her ball toss during service games, and she made a steady stream of unforced errors.
“I wish I played a couple more day matches, just to get a feel for a different atmosphere,” Sharapova said. “It was a bit up and down in the beginning. I was always on the defensive, and when I tried to get the ball rolling it was too late.”
Doubles final: Lindsay Davenport and Lisa Huber defeated Yung-Jan Chan and Jie Zheng 7-5, 6-7 (8) and 10-8 in a tiebreaker.