You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Tennis champion Azarenka regains top form but all eyes on Serena

AFP logoAFP 03-04-2016 Jim Slater
Serena Williams (L) speaks with Victoria Azarenka after the women's final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2016, where Azarenka defeated Williams © Provided by AFP Serena Williams (L) speaks with Victoria Azarenka after the women's final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2016, where Azarenka defeated Williams

Victoria Azarenka has regained the form that made her a two-time Australian Open champion, but top-ranked Serena Williams still commands the attention entering the claycourt season.

Azarenka became the first woman since 2005, and only the third ever after Staffi Graf and Kim Clijsters, to sweep the US double of Indian Wells and Miami by downing Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-2 in Saturday's WTA Miami Open final.

The 26-year-old from Belarus struggled through two injury filled seasons since winning Melbourne crowns in 2012 and 2013 and rising to world number one. But her 12-0 US run, including a victory over Williams in the Indian Wells final, has her confident and excited over the coming campaign.

"Definitely very motivated for clay season," Azarenka said. "I've always been a high favorite of proving people wrong. Going into clay season, people say it's not my favorite surface at whatever.

"I'm going to work pretty hard to make sure it's going to be my favorite surface. I'm going to put in the work that's needed and the adjustments that are needed. I'm looking forward to putting necessary work in and then go after it."

Williams has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of Steffi Graf's career total and three back of Margaret Court's all-time record.

Last year, the 34-year-old American came within two matches of a calendar year Grand Slam, falling to Roberta Vinci in the US Open semi-finals. Since then she has lost to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final, to Azarenka in the Indian Wells final and in the fourth round at Miami to Kuznetsova, who sees Williams' status as the key to how the clay season will unfold.

"There are good players who can shock top players and it is quite open, but you have to see how Serena will go to clay," said Kuznetsova.

"You never know. If she's in good mood, not good mood, good fit, not fit, you never know. When Serena is her best, it's tough."

Azarenka has reached the semi-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon and made the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals, only to lose each time to Williams, who will be defending titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Serena Williams returns the ball to Victoria Azarenka in the women's final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2016 © Provided by AFP Serena Williams returns the ball to Victoria Azarenka in the women's final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 20, 2016

"Serena is one of the players who makes me push myself and with the stats and records -- she owns pretty much all the records there," Azarenka said.

"She's the toughest competitor there is. And for me there's a great challenge to have her because it will always push me to improve.

"We'll see what happens. When I say I believe in myself and I believe I'm good, there's no other way to go on the court. If you're not going on the court feeling you are the best player, just don't go."

Williams owns a 17-4 career record against Azarenka, her five-match win streak halted at Indian Wells. Williams has a 4-0 edge in their matches on clay and the same record on grass.

But Azarenka, who will rise from eighth to fifth in Monday's rankings, is back in the top five for the first time since May 2014.

"I still need to keep improving and keep getting better," Azarenka said. "This stretch since the Australian Open gave me a lot of improvements, so I'm going to keep that going."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon