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Azarenka bullies Sharapova to claim maiden major

Azarenka of Belarus hits a return to Sharapova of Russia during their women's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament i
Azarenka of Belarus hits a return to Sharapova of Russia during their women's singles final match at the Australian Open tennis tournament i

By Greg Stutchbury

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Victoria Azarenka became the first Belarusian to win a grand slam singles title when she claimed the Australian Open title with a crushing 6-3 6-0 victory over Russia's Maria Sharapova on Saturday.

The 22-year-old's first grand slam title also means that she will become the new world number one when the WTA rankings are released on Monday.

While virtually carbon copies of each other in terms of height and playing style, Azarenka had won the two previous finals between the pair, both on hardcourts, and the players' entrances could not have been more prophetic.

Carrying a designer handbag Sharapova was stalked down the tunnel by the hooded Azarenka, exuding a sense of menace as she stayed in the shadows.

The mugging by the first timer, when it did come, was brutally efficient. It took until the third game of the match, but by then the visible signs of anxiety were gone.

Azarenka had dropped her opening service game, was trailing 2-0 and 0-30 down in her second when she finally realized she had Sharapova's match.

Attacking at every opportunity, Azarenka used her better speed and footwork to absorb and negate the Russian's power game and bashed her about the baseline at will.

The Belarusian overcame the early deficit and broke Sharapova twice on the way to taking the first set in 46 minutes.

With the Russian down to one knee, Azarenka did not let up her attack, breaking Sharapova's serve in the first game of the second set and then holding off a break point in the next game.

She soon ran away with the set and the match, claiming the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup when Sharapova blasted a backhand into the net, sending Azarenka sinking to her knees proclaiming "I can't believe it" before rushing over to embrace those sitting in her support box.

Azarenka became the third woman, after Evonne Goolagong-Cawley and Chris O'Neil, to win the junior and senior singles title at Melbourne Park. She won the junior title in 2005.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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