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Jan 28, 2012 at 08:12pm IST

Azarenka hammers Sharapova to win Australian Open

Melbourne: Victoria Azarenka had produced one of the most lopsided Australian Open final victories to capture a Grand Slam title and the No. 1 ranking for the first time. She started celebrating on Rod Laver Arena, then suddenly did a double-take to ask her coach, "What happened?"

The answer: She routed three-time Grand Slam winner and 2008 Australian champion Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in 1 hour, 22 minutes on Saturday night, winning 12 of the last 13 games after dropping her first service game and falling behind 2-0.

"Wow," Azarenka said as she first spoke to the crowd, then started giggling. She thanked her support team, saying "You made me realize I can believe in myself and I can finally raise this trophy."

Azarenka thumps Sharapova to win Australian Open

Azarenka won her first-ever Grand Slam, as well as took over the top ranking.

"It's a dream come true," she said later. "I have been dreaming and working so hard to win the Grand Slam, and being No. 1 is pretty good bonus. Just the perfect ending and the perfect position to be in."

Azarenka won 11 straight matches, including a run to the Sydney International title, to reach her first Grand Slam final. Her previous best performance at a Major was a semi-final loss to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon last year. Sharapova had all the experience, being in her sixth Major final and having won three - dating back to her 2004 Wimbledon title.

But it didn't unnerve the 22-year-old Azarenka, who is the first woman from Belarus to win a singles Major. She's also the seventh different woman to win a Grand Slam title since Francesca Schiavone won the 2010 French Open, and the fifth different winner in as many Majors.

The 22-year-old Belarusian became only the third woman to earn the No. 1 spot after winning her first Grand Slam title. She moved from No. 3 to No. 1 in the rankings, helped by Caroline Wozniacki's loss in the quarter-finals.

The third-seeded Azarenka set up championship point with a stunning forehand, her 14th clean winner, and sealed it when Sharapova netted a backhand.

She dropped on to her knees at the baseline with her hands over her face. She got up, held up her hands up and jogged up to her coach, Sam Sumyk, in the stands to celebrate.

"The best feeling, for sure," Azarenka said. "I don't know about the game. I don't know what I was doing out there. It's just pure joy what happened. I can't believe it's over."

And she paid special credit to her grandmother, "the person who inspires me the most in my life."

Azarenka has been a distinctive presence at Melbourne Park as much as for her shrieks and hoots with each shot and seemingly boundless energy as for her white shorts, blue singlet and lime green head and wrist bands.

Against Sharapova, she maintained the frenetic movement that has been the hallmark of her campaign in Australia, her 25th consecutive Major. She won the Sydney International title the weekend before the year's first Major and is now on a 12-match winning streak, including a semi-final win against 2011 Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters - the first player since 2004 to win a WTA tour event the week before winning a Major.

A lot of attention before the final was on the grunting of both players. In the second game, someone shouted "turn the volume down," but there was nothing after that except for a few mutterings when the shrieking got really loud.

"She did everything better than I did today. I had a good first couple of games, and that was about it," Sharapova said. "Then she was the one that was taking the first ball and hitting it deep and aggressive. I was always the one running around like a rabbit, you know, trying to play catch-up all the time."

Sharapova also won only three games in a 2007 final loss to Serena Williams, who also conceded only three games in the 2009 final against Dinara Safina.

When Sharapova won the first two games, there was no indication of how lopsided the match would be. Azarenka took control after holding for the first time, breaking Sharapova at love and then holding again on a three-game roll.

Sharapova held, finishing off with an ace, to level the score at 3-3 in the first set but then didn't win another game.

Azarenka started dictating the points, coming to the net at times, hitting winners from the baseline and forcing the 24-year-old Russian to the extremes on both sides of the court. Sharapova seemed barely able to move by comparison, and had 30 unforced errors in the match.

The second set was completely lopsided and lasted only 36 minutes, with Sharapova winning only 12 points.

"As in any sport, you have your good days, you have your tough days and you have days where things just don't work out," said Sharapova, who has now been on the losing end of two of the most lopsided scorelines in a final at Melbourne Park.

Azarenka had her best season on record in 2011, winning 55 matches and losing 17 as she finished at a year-end No. 3 ranking.

There was a time when she'd momentarily flirted with the idea of quitting the sport during a quick trip home to Minsk after a loss at Doha. But she was quickly set straight by her family, including her grandmother, who had reportedly worked three jobs to the age of 71.

She couldn't get through to her family immediately "because my phone is freaking out right now," but she texted them from the court.

"I made a pretty smart decision, not walking out, right? That was pretty special," she said. "There's always ups and downs, now I'm up."

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