STANFORD: Eighth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus overwhelmed Russian fifth seed Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-1 in Sunday`s WTA tournament final here to win her first title of the season.
A day after her 21st birthday, Azarenka broke the Russian three times in the first set then took advantage of 16 unforced errors in the second set by Sharapova while committing only one to win the 700,000-dollar hardcourt event.
"I haven`t lost a match yet since I turned 21," Azarenka said. "It`s great. I can have cake now."
Azarenka, likely to jump six spots from her ranking of 19th, improved to 19-5 this season on hardcourts, the surface where she has won her four career WTA titles and where she will play at the US Open later this month.
"It just brings me so much confidence and passion to go, especially before the US Open," Azarenka said. "I`m glad I`m picking up my form and gaining so much confidence."
Sharapova, who had won 17 of 20 prior matches, missed a chance to claim her third title of the year and jump above her 15th-place ranking to her best ranking since returning from a shoulder injury in May of 2009.
"Congratulations to `Nika on great playing and a great week," Sharapova said. "I`m sure we will be playing many more times so I will get my revenge."
Azarenka, now 2-2 against Sharapova, needed four set points but finally took the first set when the Russian sent a backhand wide. Azarenka twice rallied from 0-30 to hold serve, denying Sharapova a third break to level.
"Maria is a great player. I had to dig my way in," Azarenka said. "I was running a lot. It was tough to hold my serve. I had to play really well. I`m glad I kept fighting. Point by point it worked for me."
Azarenka broke Sharapova to open the second set and again to seize a 4-1 lead and in the final game, which she claimed at love when Sharapova netted a forehand.
BDST: 1059 HRS, AUGUST 02, 2010