Victoria Azarenka glides confidently across the court after defeating… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Sports fans love streaks, which gives them a nice reason to pay attention to a 22-year-old tennis player from Belarus named Victoria Azarenka.
She won the women's title Sunday in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Not only did she do so with ease, as the 6-2, 6-3 score against Maria Sharapova would indicate, but she built on her increasingly impressive streak — 23 victories now without a defeat in 2012.
Sharapova, a three-time major tournament winner who won't even turn 25 until April and is the No. 2 player in the world, was as impressed as most of those watching in the sold-out, 16,100-seat Indian Wells Tennis Garden stadium.
"She played phenomenal tennis," Sharapova said. "You just cannot let up against her."
The match pitted the women's Nos. 1 and 2 for the first time here since 2008, and the lopsided result is not typical for that sort of pairing. But Azarenka, after a near-tumble in the second round, made a shambles of this competition. Her quarterfinal victim was Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who is No. 5 and was destroyed by Azarenka, 6-0, 6-2, after the Belarusian led, 6-0, 5-0.
Her only close call was in the second round against Mona Barthel of Germany. It took Azarenka 3 hours 1 minute to survive, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6).
Azarenka is not new on the tennis scene, she is just newly successful. This time last year, she was defaulting out of a quarterfinal against eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki and heading off to the next tour stop in Miami, carrying with her a reputation as a good but oft-injured player. She healed up quickly, won in Miami and finished the year with a 55-17 record, despite crushing defeats by Petra Kvitova in the semifinals at Wimbledon and Serena Williams in the third round at theU.S. Open.
She ended 2011 ranked No. 3 and jumped to No. 1 immediately after winning the Australian Open, her first Grand Slam title, with an overwhelming victory in the final, also against Sharapova, 6-3, 6-0.
There has been no stopping her since.
The Indian Wells victory was her fourth of the season and her fifth in the last six tournaments she has entered.
"I'm No. 1," she said. "I have to keep on winning. I'm just trying to be the best player and best person I can be on every single day."
The only mildly surprising statistic from her match Sunday was that it took 1 hour 26 minutes. She converted six of 12 break-point chances and won 67 points to Sharapova's 43.
Asked if her No. 1 stature has changed her as a person, she said, "It's important for me to stay humble and to know that what I've been doing is working."