Tennis-Women's Finalists Play Down Experience Factor
Victoria Azarenka refuses to accept that Maria Sharapova's greater experience could be the defining factor when they meet in the Australian Open women's final on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Belarusian will be playing her first major final while Sharapova will step out on Rod Laver Arena for a third title showdown in Australia and sixth overall in grand slams.
Sharapova has won three of those grand slam finals, at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and at Melbourne Park in 2008 but little else separates the pair in terms of statistics.
They have meet six times in the past, with a 3-3 record. Four of those matches have been on hard courts, where the record is 2-2.
Azarenka, however, has a 2-0 record in finals, both on U.S. hardcourts, at Stanford in 2010 and Miami in 2011.
The power hitting duo are both unbeaten so far this year, with Sharapova preferring to rest an ankle injury than play a warmup tournament before the Australian Open, while Azarenka swept to the Sydney title.
At Melbourne Park, Azarenka has played 113 games and has a 79-34 record. Sharapova has played 111 (78-33).
Both have won 12 sets while losing two, while Sharapova has spent a cumulative nine hours, 23 minutes on court, 21 minutes longer than the third seed.
"In finals anything can happen. It's different stage of a tournament," Azarenka said on Friday. "It's a battle for giving really your all and how well you can manage it.
"I don't really want to take the back experience. Of course I know Maria's game; she knows my game. So it's going to be a little bit of a similarity there.
"But I mean, it's going to be a different match (and a) whole different approach.
"We always had difficult matches, so really looking forward to that battle. It's not going to be easy."
Azarenka, who wears a 'hoodie' sweatshirt and buries herself in her personal music player immediately prior to her matches said she was extending that kind of isolation towards the final.
"I think she's a very tough opponent. She's been in the finals here, she won here, so definitely she has a lot of experience (but)... it's no concern for me.
"I worked hard to be in this situation, so why stress about it? I want it and that's what I'm looking for, so I'm just going to go out there and try to do my best."
Sharapova had to battle to beat world number two Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals, but was also downplaying any experiential advantages she may have, particularly since many had expected her to beat the Czech in last year's Wimbledon final.
"I played Petra in her first grand slam final. She played really high quality tennis out there on the grass and she went out there and it didn't really affect her," Sharapova said.
"So even though Victoria hasn't really been in that stage of a grand slam before, she's certainly won big titles and she has the experience.
"This is a stage she's wanted to be at for a long time, so I do expect her to play really good tennis."
The Russian has returned to the top of women's' tennis after shoulder reconstruction surgery in 2008 and like Azarenka, could take the top ranking if she wins the title, though Sharapova was more interested in taking home the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
"Personally, for me, it's more about the grand slam win than the number one ranking. This is obviously what I train for and why I go out on the court and try to improve for moments like this.
"You have them four times a year, and these are the big ones for us, the important ones.
"That's just always been the goal for me."
By Reuters, 27/01/2012