Victoria Azarenka is only 22 but it has taken the world No 3 time to make her mark at the highest level. The Belarusian is competing in her 25th consecutive Grand Slam tournament here at the Australian Open and today she will be playing in her first final.
Although there is only two years' difference between Azarenka and her opponent, Maria Sharapova, they are almost from different generations. Sharapova won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon nearly eight years ago and it is four years since she won her last, having claimed the title here without losing a set in 2008. The 24-year-old Russian will be playing in her sixth Grand Slam final.
While Sharapova has a clear edge in experience, there is nothing to choose between the two in their head-to-head record. They have won three matches apiece, though Azarenka took both their meetings in finals, at Stanford in 2010 and Miami last year.
"In finals anything can happen – it's a different stage of a tournament," Azarenka said yesterday. "Of course I know Maria's game. She knows my game. So it's going to be a little bit of a similarity there. But it's going to be a different match, a whole different approach. We've always had difficult matches. It's not going to be easy."
Azarenka has had plenty of disappointments at past Grand Slam tournaments and has frozen on big occasions, but she does not expect that to happen today. "I worked hard to be in this situation, so why stress about it?" she said. "I want it and that's what I'm looking for, so I'm just going to go out there and try to do my best."
Both women are unbeaten this year. Whoever wins will replace Caroline Wozniacki at the top of the world rankings next week.