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Vika Victorious: Azarenka Outlasts Serena in Doha Finals

Victoria Azarenka successful defended her title at the Qatar Total Open with a three set win over Serena Williams

By Erik Gudris

Victoria Azarenka (February 17th, 2013) -- She may be ranked No. 2 in the world come Monday, but Victoria Azarenka finished first in the Qatar Total Open finals with a three set win over Serena Williams, her first in nearly four years.

Both women entered the match knowing that regardless of the outcome, Williams would ascend to the top of the WTA rankings based on her run to the finals this week. But it was the 15-time Major champion who got off to a very slow start at the outset as she hit eight unforced errors to give Azarenka an early lead.

Williams, who struggled to keep her grip on her racquet in the cold, windy conditions, got her game going midway through the set as she broke Azarenka for 4-all. It soon became a back and forth contest that ultimately resulted in a tiebreak.

Multiple errors from Williams allowed Azarenka to open up a 5-2 lead in the breaker. But a costly double fault from Azarenka put Williams even at 5-all. Williams held a set point on her serve but couldn't close it out. That missed opportunity provided Azarenka her own chance at a set point - one she converted when Williams sprayed a backhand long.

The start of the second set opened with Williams complaining to chair umpire Eva Asderaki about Azarenka's continual habit of holding up her racquet before receiving serve. That source of irritation appeared to fire up the sluggish Williams who began to hit bigger on all sides, especially her forehand that had been a source of multiple errors.

Williams broke to love for 2-1 and soon had another break of serve for 5-2 thanks to a double fault from Azarenka. With Azarenka's first serve percentage dropping to 39%, she could offer little resistance as Williams put away the set 6-2.

But the momentum shifted again in the final set as Azarenka elevated her game as Williams's level began to dip. Azarenka's first serve percentage rose to 80% at the same time she began to dominate the rallies with well constructed points that ended often with a forehand winner.

Azarenka earned an early break and soon found herself up 5-2. Though Williams held serve to force Azarenka to serve it out at 5-3, the Belarusian didn't blink as she soon found herself at triple match point. Williams saved the first with a return winner, but Azarenka hit a final big serve Williams couldn't handle to secure the 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3 victory.

This win halts Azarenka's recent losing streak against Williams. Doha marks the first time since 2009 that Azarenka has beaten Williams with her last victory being in the Miami finals that year. Azarenka is also now a perfect 14-0 in the 2013 season since beginning the year in Australia.

"This whole week I just don't think I played my best tennis," Williams told WTA.com afterwards. "But I was fighting every match. I was really excited to make it to the final with the game I was playing all week. I can't play that quality game against a top player like Victoria. I have to be able to pick up my game, and I wasn't able to do that today. I stayed at a 2 out of 10, and I really can't play that low."

"Any tournament I'm happy to play against Serena," said Azarenka. "She's absolutely right - I feel like we're pushing each other to go to the limit every time, to step up, to improve, and that's a tremendous motivation to have. You know somebody is out there who wants to push you."

The doubles title was won by Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci over Nadia Petrova and Katerina Srebotnik 2-6, 6-3, 10-6. Doha is the third title of the year for the current WTA No.1's in doubles.

(Photo Credit: AP/O.Faisal)


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