Azarenka rolls to Key Biscayne title
Shrieking with every shot, Victoria Azarenka won the Sony Ericsson Open for the second time by beating Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-4.
The No. 8-seeded Azarenka was the steadier player Saturday and swept nine consecutive games to take charge. Sharapova committed 43 unforced errors, held serve only once and came up short with a late comeback bid.
''I played real well the first set,'' Azarenka said. ''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.''
Azarenka also won at Key Biscayne in 2009, stopping Serena Williams in the final. The two titles are the biggest of the Belarussian's career.
Sharapova, whose most recent title came at Strasbourg in May 2010, has lost her past four finals. She fell to 0-3 in finals at Key Biscayne, where she was also the runner-up in 2005 and 2006.
No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal will play for the men's championship Sunday against No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who is 23-0 this year.
The women's final matched two of the most notorious grunters in tennis. Beforehand, Azarenka suggested fans wear earplugs, and the two players traded shrieks on every rally, drawing giggles from the crowd at one point.
However, Sharapova was flat at the start. She broke serve to reach 1-all, but it was an hour before she won another game to make it 4-1 in the second set.
She failed to convert 11 game points on her serve before holding for the only time to trail 4-2, then began to steady her strokes. She overcame two match points to break for 5-4.
''I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong,'' Azarenka said. ''She was just playing really good, so I just had to hang in there.''
But Sharapova was too erratic to sustain her rally or the rallies. When she dumped a forehand into the net on the final point, Azarenka dropped her racket in disbelief and celebrated by spinning and dancing across the court.
Serena and Venus Williams, who between them have won eight times at Key Biscayne, missed the tournament for health reasons. But Azarenka still had a tough path to the final, beating No. 2 Kim Clijsters and No. 3 Vera Zvonareva in straight sets.
Azarenka is projected to be ranked No. 6 next week, matching a career-best. Sharapova is projected to climb to No. 9, the highest she has been ranked since early 2009.