Dominant Azarenka not fazed by dirt

Victoria Azarenka poses with the Butch Buchholz trophy on the beach after defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in the women's singles final at the Miami Open. The Belarussian's attention will now turn to extending her winning form to the coming clay-court t
Victoria Azarenka poses with the Butch Buchholz trophy on the beach after defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in the women's singles final at the Miami Open. The Belarussian's attention will now turn to extending her winning form to the coming clay-court tournaments. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The Miami and Indian Wells double winner is fired up to improve her record on clay

MIAMI • Victoria Azarenka kept up a banner year when she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-2 to win the Miami Open on Saturday, and will now set her sights on the clay-court season and the French Open.

She punished her Russian opponent's weak serve to wrap up the final in 80 minutes under a searing sun in the early afternoon encounter on the Key Biscayne hardcourt.

The 13th seed finished off Kuznetsova with a powerful backhand ground stroke for the 20th title of her career, and her third of the year, after winning previously in Indian Wells and Brisbane.

She became only the third woman to sweep the Miami-Indian Wells double in the same season, after Steffi Graf in 1994 and 1996 and Kim Clijsters in 2005.

"This just gives me even more inspiration and motivation to keep working harder," Azarenka, who did not drop a set en route to her third Miami title, said in a courtside interview.

DRIVEN BY CRITICS TO IMPROVE

When people say clay is not my favourite surface, I'm going to work hard to make sure it's my favourite surface. I will do the work. Do the adjustments. I'm looking forward to going after it.

VICTORIA AZARENKA, on her preparations for the upcoming clay-court season, which includes the French Open.

"I'm very happy that all the work that I've been putting in is paying off. It's such a great opportunity to play the whole month so consistent."

The Belarussian took her US run to 12-0 and improved to a remarkable 22-1 for the season.

"She's at the height of her game now," Kuznetsova, like Azarenka a two-time Major champion, said after holding serve just twice on Saturday. "She's the one who dominates so far, but the year is long."

Azarenka will jump from eighth to fifth in the world rankings today, her first time in the top five since March 2014. Kuznetsova, 30, will rise from 19th to 13th.

Azarenka was top of the world rankings four years ago, before she was sidetracked by injury and personal problems.

She plans to continue her resurgence as the season switches from hardcourt to clay.

While she has been the least successful on clay, never reaching the French Open final in nine tries, the 26-year-old is ready to make a breakthrough.

"I am definitely motivated for the clay season," she said.

"I've always liked to prove people wrong. It motivates me. When people say clay is not my favourite surface, I'm going to work hard to make sure it's my favourite surface. I will do the work. Do the adjustments. I'm looking forward to going after it."

The powerful baseliner warned rivals that her game is well-suited on the dirt, and noted that she made the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2013.

"I'm ready to take that second step," said the two-time Australian Open champion.

"I need to work on sliding and a little bit more patience, but I'm very excited."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Dominant Azarenka not fazed by dirt'. Print Edition | Subscribe