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Tennis: Azarenka takes perfect record into Qatar Open final

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Victoria Azarenka, the only leading player in the world who remains unbeaten this year, impressively achieved her 13th successive win of 2013 on Saturday to carry her defence of the Qatar Open title into the final.

The top-seeded Belarussian did that with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, a thumping result against the fourth best player in the world and one which could lead to back-to-back defence of titles.

Azarenka successfully defended the Australian Open last month.

It also indicated how much Azarenka has improved since winning that first Grand Slam title just over a year ago.

On this evidence she is the world's best player right now, even though she will lose the world number one ranking to Serena Williams on Monday.

The American, due to play Maria Sharapova in the other semi-final, has been suffering from back and ankle injuries and a cold.

Azarenka's bombarding ground strokes have more angles and more variety than they did, she is more willing to come to the net and more effective there, and mentally she is more solid.

Once ahead against Radwanska there was no suggestion that she might falter.

Asked what had brought such improvement, Azarenka replied: "I've grown up a little bit. It's maturity and a little more experience."

"The beginning of last year was a kick start for me to find more rhythm and step up my game. I also love it here in Doha and it feels like home, so I am glad I am in the final again."

From the start that looked likely.

Azarenka broke Radwanska in the opening game, and although she lost the advantage she made the second, more crucial break soon afterwards.

By then she had got into her powerfully rhythmic stride and it opened a door to a period of dominance in which she took seven out of eight games.

Azarenka was more powerful off the ground than Radwanska, which too often required the Pole to move out of her comfort zone to counter it. When Radwanska tried to hit a little harder or closer to the lines, her error ratio, usually so low, went up.

It also placed pressure on Radwanska to get her first serve in, to avoid punishment being delivered upon the second.

The effect was to create tension, forcing Radwanska's first serve ratio down to 54 percent, lower than par for the course, enabling Azarenka to capitalise by breaking a third time and taking a one set lead.

It became a fourth break of serve in six Radwanska service games early in the second set, when Azarenka wound up and launched a thunderously dismissive forehand return of serve from the backhand side.

It was a shot which not only gave her a 2-0 lead but made a fierce psychological statement.

A game later, trailing 0-3, Radwanska called for her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, and at least it gave her a brief chance to pause and re-think.

It was also followed by three successive holds of serve, and sensible attempts to project ground strokes from positions slightly further up the court.

But the damage had been done.

Azarenka continued the bombardment behind a heavily reliable serve, and never looked like dropping it.

She conceded only three points in the next three service games. She will be a tough act to better.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130216/tennis-azarenka-takes-perfect-record-qatar-open-final