She was on edge. She was off target and under pressure from her more experienced opponent and sonic soulmate, Maria Sharapova.
“I was really nervous before the christian louboutin match because the expectation was coming, the adrenaline was kicking in,” said Azarenka, a 22-year-old from Belarus.
History was not too comforting, either. The last Belarussian woman to play in a major singles final was Natasha Zvereva at the 1988 French Open, and she did not win a game against Steffi Graf.
But neither the nerves nor the national precedents kept Azarenka down for long. Trailing by 0-2, 0-30, on Saturday, she won the next four points and seldom stopped winning them from there, transforming what could have been a hotly contested Australian Open final into a one-woman demonstration of power, depth and — yes — poise. That might come as some surprise to those who have watched Azarenka cry in the middle of matches.
This time, she was in the moment and maybe even in the zone, and when her 6-3, 6-0 victory was complete after just 1 hour 22 minutes, she dropped to her knees on the baseline, covered her face with her hands and looked as surprised as Sharapova looked chastened.
“It’s just this moment you cannot explain, the best feeling for sure,” Azarenka said in an Australian television interview. “I have no idea what I was doing out there.”
Perhaps not, but it was certainly working beautifully as she countered Sharapova’s increasingly desperate returns and ground strokes with big, on-target hitting. Sharapova, one of the game’s most fearsome baseliners, won only 22 of 67 points from the baseline as she kept failing to get the first-strike edge to which she is accustomed.
“I had a good couple of games, and that was about it,” said Sharapova, a three-time Grand Slam champion. “Then she was the one that was taking the first ball and hitting it deep and aggressive. I was always the one running around like a rabbit trying to play catch-up all the time.”
As a result, Azarenka, not Sharapova, will be the new No. 1 player on Monday. Azarenka will replace her friend and Monaco neighbor Caroline Wozniacki atop the WTA rankings.
Though Wozniacki, an upbeat and consistent Dane, finished 2010 and 2011 at No. 1, she never reached a Grand Slam final during those seasons. With this victory, Azarenka will restore some symmetry but not necessarily order. Five women have now won the last five major singles titles. Seven women have won the last eight, which is quite a contrast with the stability in the men’s game.
But Azarenka has the strokes and now has the stage presence to make a long-range impact. She has had significant success on hardcourts, winning the prestigious Miami event in 2009 and in 2011, when she beat Sharapova, 6-1, 6-4, in the final. Azarenka also reached the final of the season-ending WTA Championships last year.
“It’s not that she’s coming in here as an unexperienced player,” Sharapova said. “She’s beaten a lot of top players in her career.”
Sharapova, of all tennis stars, should know that being a neophyte is no impediment to victory. She won on her first attempt at Wimbledon when she was 17, stunning Serena Williams in the final. She went on to win more two more major titles, including the 2008 Australian Open.
Shoulder surgery set her back, forcing her to change her service motion, but when she returned to a major final last year at Wimbledon, she was beaten convincingly by Petra Kvitova, a left-hander from the Czech Republic who was playing in her first Grand Slam final.
Sharapova, a 24-year-old Russian who has long been based in the United States, exacted a measure of revenge by defeating Christian Louboutin Sandals Kvitova in the semifinals here Thursday, but she kept cracking first from the baseline against Azarenka.
“There was no way I was going to win the match if I was going to let her dictate and be the one that’s aggressive and, you know, go for the lines,” Sharapova said. “But I think maybe I just kind of overdid it.”
To sum up, it was a humbling night for Sharapova, who has long been the world’s highest-earning female athlete. But she has become a gracious loser through the years, and she handled the defeat with dignity, delivering a pitch-perfect speech at the awards ceremony in which she congratulated Azarenka for her victory and said she should “cherish it for as long as you can.”
Sharapova added later: “It’s frustrating, but I have a pretty good head on my shoulders in terms of having a good perspective on sport and life. And as hard as it is and as much as you want to be the champion, you know, there’s only one. That’s why the feeling is so special when you do achieve that. That’s why the work is so hard and extreme.”
Sharapova and Azarenka have much in common beyond their height, their drive and their on-court shrieking. They were born in the Soviet Union, and they left home to advance their tennis careers: Sharapova at 6 with her father, Yuri, for Florida; Azarenka at 14 for Marbella, Spain, where she disliked the training conditions and eventually returned home to Minsk.
But by then her mother, Alla, had met the N.H.L. goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and his family. Khabibulin, a Russian, had a daughter playing junior tennis at a high level, and the Khabibulins invited Azarenka to the United States. They helped her financially initially and also put her in contact with the coach Antonio Van Grichen, a former Portuguese Davis Cup player.
Van Grichen worked with Azarenka until the end of the 2009 season, when she hired Sam Sumyk, a Frenchman who had been working with the leading Russian player Vera Zvonareva. Sumyk’s wife, the American former player Meilen Tu, is also her agent, and they and her French physical trainer, Jean-Pierre Bruyere, form a close-knit, nomadic group.
Sumyk, Tu and Bruyere were the three she embraced first in the stands at Rod Laver Arena after Saturday’s victory, but she also thanked her parents and grandmother, who were back in Belarus, and her boyfriend, Sergei Bubka Jr., an aspiring professional player who lost in qualifying here and is the son of the former pole-vaulting star Sergei Bubka.
Azarenka and her team spent the Christmas holidays with the Bubkas in Dubai, and the elder Bubka had a motivational effect on the group.
“He’s got a real passion for sport and a passion to share, and I think he had a real effect on Vika,” Bruyere said.
Vika, short for Victoria, is Azarenka’s nickname, and it has the potential to become global shorthand, like Rafa for Christian Louboutin Trotte Avec Moi Suede Boots Black Rafael Nadal. But for now, Azarenka is on the rise after her first major singles title, even if she is soon to be No. 1.
“I have been dreaming and working so hard to win the Grand Slam,” she said. “And being No. 1 is a pretty good bonus.”