By Mark Lamport-Stokes
INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - World number one Victoria Azarenka clinched her fourth title of the year with a 6-2 6-3 demolition of an error-prone Maria Sharapova in the final of the Indian Wells WTA tournament on Sunday.
On a cold and blustery day, the Australian Open champion broke Sharapova's notoriously fragile serve twice in the opening set and four times in the second to triumph in one hour and 26 minutes on the showpiece stadium court.
Although Azarenka faced a little more resistance from Sharapova late in the second set, she held off the Russian's fightback and ended the match with a probing backhand which forced a desperate lob from her opponent that floated long.
The 22-year-old Belarusian dropped her racket in delight and set off on a running jig in the direction of the players' box after improving her record this year to 23-0, the best start to a WTA Tour season since 1997.
Swiss Martina Hingis recorded 37 consecutive victories to launch her 1997 campaign with Azarenka next best on 23 and American Serena Williams in third, with 21 in 2003.
"I was really actually nervous before the final," a beaming Azarenka told reporters after lifting the imposing crystal trophy. "I knew Maria had played some excellent tennis this week and she's always a very tough opponent to play.
"What was important for me was to try to put as much pressure on her, not to really let her into the match. It was a little bit difficult with the wind to control but I handled the situation really good.
"I never dreamed about that," Azarenka said of her perfect start to the season. "It's amazing. I just really focused on every match at a time. I'm not thinking too much ahead."
Azaranka, who won her first grand slam title at the Australian Open in January with a straight sets win over Sharapova, broke the Russian in the first and seventh games of the match to lead 5-2.
The Belarusian then held to clinch the opening set in 40 minutes after a Sharapova forehand service return flew long.
Sharapova's serving woes continued in the second as she was again broken in the first and third games to trail 0-3.
Unexpectedly, Azarenka lost serve for the first time in the fourth after Sharapova clawed her way back from 40-15 down but the Russian once again failed to hold serve in the fifth when she blasted a forehand long to trail 1-4.
Azarenka was also broken in the sixth when Sharapova followed a forehand crosscourt winner with a crunching backhand winner down the line, pumping her left fist in celebration.
Though the Russian finally held for the first time in the set in the seventh, Azarenka won the next two games to improve her career record to 5-3 over Sharapova.
"She's extremely solid and she makes you work for every point," said former world number one Sharapova who was champion here in 2006. "Ultimately she forces you to want to do a little bit more than either you should or would want to.
"She's playing with a lot of confidence. I just made too many unforced errors at the wrong time."
(Editing by Julian Linden)