Azarenka thrashes Sharapova to win in Stanford

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By Matthew Cronin

STANFORD, California (Reuters) - A charged-up Victoria Azarenka of Belarus won her first tournament of the year on Sunday by blowing away Maria Sharapova 6-4 6-1 in the final of the Stanford Classic.

In a breath-taking display of power tennis, Azarenka broke her three-time grand slam champion opponent six times, controlling the match with laser-sharp groundstrokes.

"This shows that I really believe in myself," Azarenka told reporters. "It gives me a lot of confidence, especially going into the US open."

The win capped an impressive week for wild card Azarenka, who earlier upended French champion Marion Bartoli in the quarter-finals and Australian world number five Samantha Stosur in the last four.

The two tall blondes went toe-to-toe early in the match, but the wheels came off for Sharapova when the Belarusian broke to lead 5-4 after ripping a backhand return winner. She then took the set after forcing a backhand error.

"I played a really sloppy game at 4-3, had some unforced errors off my return and she really stepped it up and took advantage of it," said Sharapova, who amassed 27 unforced errors to Azarenka's 13.

"I was always on defense after that. When I tried to get the ball rolling, I was a little too late."


Azarenka then broke Sharapova to open the second set and never looked back, jumping on her serve and powering balls to the corners.

The match was sealed when Sharapova missed another backhand.

"I started aggressive right away because once she getting on a roll it's hard to keep up," said Azarenka, who came into the contest with a 1-2 record against Sharapova.

"I knew I had to fight and be on top of her every moment and not allow her to come back in the second set."

Azarenka was particularly pleased with her service return during the final weekend, having blunted two of the tour's most feared servers in Stosur and Sharapova.

"I always tell myself I have to (go) for my returns and not to step back," she said.

Azarenka celebrated her 21st birthday on Saturday and is projected to rise to 12th when new rankings come out on Monday.

(Editing by Dave Thompson/Ian Ransom)