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H H Sheikha Moza bint Nasser (third left) presents trophies to the finalists after the Qatar Total Open 2013 women’s tennis finals at Khalifa International Tennis Complex, yesterday. Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat the American Serena Williams 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 6-3 to retain her Doha title. Qatar Tennis Federation President Nasser Al Khelaifi (second right) and Stephane Michel, Managing Director of Total E&P Qatar (left), are also seen. Full report on page 28 AR Al Baker/HHOPL
BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: World number one and top seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus yesterday braved a Serena Williams onslaught to win the $2.36m Qatar Open for the second time in a row.
The defending champion, who won the Australian Open last month, overcame a mid-match crisis to beat Serena 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 6-3 in what was the second final of the new season for the 23-year-old Belarussian.
Azarenka, who beat Australia’s Samantha Stosur in last year’s final, picked up the top prize of $426,000 while 31-year-old Serena went home richer by $213,000.
In a classic baseline tussle in front of more than 7,000 fans, Azarenka won the first set in a tight tie-breaker before losing composure and purpose in her serve in the second.
However, Azarenka picked up momentum in the deciding set, breaking the 15-time Grand Slam in game two to seal victory in 2 hours 28 minutes.
It was Azarenka’s first win over Serena in 10 matches and just the second in 12 head-to-head battles.
The Minsk-born will be replaced by the American as the new world number one today but Azarenka said she has no option but to fight the American to emerge winner.
“I just knew that I had to fight. I just wanted to give myself every opportunity to win this match,” Azarenka said yesterday.
“In the third set, I told myself that I had to do something otherwise she can take the game away from you.
“I knew that she was going to bring her A-game, especially on the key moments of the match,” Azarenka said.
“I really had to step up to turn things around,” she said.
Serena, winner of 47 titles on the women’s Tour, was gracious in defeat.
“She really played well not only today but throughout this week,” Serena said.
“She deserves to be the champion,” the American added.
Serena dictated terms for most part of the match, especially in the second set when the American sensed a revival but Azarenka put decisive effort into her first serves in the third set to secure her second trophy in Doha.
The American fired 11 aces including four in game four of the third set but Azarenka’s greater first serve percentage (79) in the third turned the match in her favour.
Azarenka said winning in Doha was just reward for hard work.
“It feels incredible. The tournament is really great. I mentioned this so many times,” Azarenka said.
“It had such a strong field going into it and I’m really glad that in the end I’m the one who’s holding the trophy. I played really well this entire week. It’s never easy to play five matches with the best players in the world. I’m glad I was really consistent and I achieved my goal,” she added.
Serena kicked-off proceedings with a 169km/h ace in the first game of the final but it was Azarenka who broke the American in the second game with powerful serves. The American broke Azarenka in game eight as the set predictably headed for the tie-breaker.
After an edgy start, Azarenka raced to 5-2 in the tie-breaker but Serena reeled off four successive points to reach set point. Leading 6-5, an unforced error from Serena provided much-needed relief to Azarenka who produced a backhand on her own serve to arrive at her first set point.
Trailing at 6-7, Serena fired a return long as Azarenka pocketed the first set. In the second set, Serena broke Azarenka in game two and then in game seven to draw level in the match as the Belarussian’s game started to fall apart with errors and weak serves.
The American picked up two easy points in game one of the third set but Azarenka switched gears to reel off four successive points to go 1-0 up.
Moments later, the tall Belarussian produced a couple of backhand shots from the baseline followed by two powerful forehand placements to break Serena in game two for a 2-0 cushion.
Trailing 3-5, Serena saved a match point in game eight but Azarenka quickly finished off the American’s challenge with powerful serves in game nine.
Serena wasn’t impressed with her outing, saying her 48 unforced errors were probably the cause of her defeat.
“I made so many errors. It was just weird,” Serena said.
“My serve, oh, my gosh, it was just one of those days. I’m having too many of those days. I’ve got to cut them out,” the 31-year-old added.
“This whole week, I just don’t think I played my best tennis. I was fighting every match. I was just really excited to make it to the final with the game I was playing all week,” Serena said.
“I can’t play that quality game against a top player like Victoria. I have to be able to pick up my game and I wasn’t able to do that today. I stayed at 2 out of 10, and I can’t play that low,” she said.
Serena praised Azarena’s resilience in Doha.
“I always respect Victoria. I think she’s a really good player,”Serena said.
“Obviously she’s so consistent and she plays well. She’s just a solid player.
“It’s nice to always play someone that you go home and you’re like, Okay, I didn’t do great, but let me work harder.
“I think she inspires a lot of people to work harder, and definitely me,” Serena said.