When Victoria Azarenka won the title in Miami two years ago a bright future was predicted for the talented 19-year-old from Belarus. She had already won tournaments that year in Brisbane and Memphis and was regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the game.
When she arrived in Florida a fortnight ago, however, the world No 8 had added just two titles in the intervening two years. Although a regular contender in the latter stages of tournaments, she had rarely found the consistency needed to finish the job.
Miami, nevertheless, clearly brings the best out of Azarenka, who won the title for the second time in three years with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova in the weekend's final. It completed an excellent few days for her following victories over Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva, ranked respectively world No 2 and No 3.
Only two months ago, during a rare trip home to her native Minsk from her base in Arizona, Azarenka had contemplated retirement. The 21-year-old said she had mentioned the idea to her mother.
"My Mum just kicked my ass for that," Azarenka said. "I guess it takes time and sometimes loneliness to realise what you have to do in your life. So I just came to practise and I just tried every day to be happy, to enjoy myself on the court and just do the best job I can.
"I just don't care if I lose. I'm just there to do the best I can. I'm going to fight for every ball, and what outcome comes out, it's not up to me. What I meant by not caring about losing is not to create such a big drama out of it. If you lose the match, you just lose a tennis match. It's not the end of the world."
Azarenka is expected to climb to No 6 in today's updated world ranking list, equalling her previous highest position, while Sharapova should be No 9, which will be her highest placing for more than two years. Although the 23-year-old Russian was outplayed in the final, she can take encouragement from her performances both in Miami and Indian Wells, where she reached the semi-finals.
Saturday's final featured two of the noisiest players in tennis who traded grunts and shrieks on almost every point. Azarenka was more consistent and took command of the match by winning nine games in succession.
Sharapova, who made 43 unforced errors, has had trouble with her serve since shoulder surgery two years ago and held it just once. The only time she looked like getting to grips with Azarenka was when she trailed 4-0 in the second set, but by then it was too late. "She did many things better than I did today," Sharapova admitted.
Azarenka said: "I played really well in the first set. 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."
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the world's top two, earned their places in last night's men's final by beating, respectively, Roger Federer by 6-3, 6-2 and Mardy Fish by 6-3, 6-1.
Federer will slip further behind the top two in today's updated world rankings list, while Andy Murray will climb one place to No 4 despite his bad recent run. The 23-year-old Scot swaps places with Robin Soderling, who drops points after failing to match his run to the semi-finals in Miami 12 months ago.Reuse content