New champ Azarenka hails rivalry in women’s game

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Victoria AZARENKA is predicting a competitive future for women’s tennis after her victory at the Australian Open saw her become the fifth different title-winner in the last five grand slams.

Azarenka thrashed Maria Sharapova for the loss of just three games in Melbourne to join Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur in claiming a major crown over the past 12 months.

And the Belarusian, who also moved to the top of the world rankings as a result of her success, believes having that quartet, and others, fighting for the big prizes can only be good for the sport.

She said: “Maria is playing really well right now, Serena (Williams) is back, Kim, I think it’s great for women’s tennis.

“With Li Na also winning a grand slam, I think it’s great competition and we can really look forward. Women’s tennis is at a great level right now.”

Azarenka’s breakthrough has been long overdue. She has been among the most talented players on the WTA Tour for some time but was held back by a fragile temperament. But having beaten Clijsters in a topsy-turvy semi-final, she appeared to have no nerves at all against Sharapova as she closed out the match at her first opportunity.

The 22-year-old added: “I have to keep going the same way with my mentality, just one step at a time. I just want to keep on improving.”