MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - After 25 Grand Slam tournaments, Victoria Azarenka is through to her first final. Maria Sharapova, her opponent in Saturday’s Australian Open title decider, has been there five times before, and won three.
That’s all history from Azarenka’s perspective.
“It’s no concern for me. I mean, I worked hard to be in this situation, so why stress about it?” Azarenka said Friday of the match that has a Grand Slam title and the No. 1 ranking on the line. “I want it and that’s what I’m looking for.”
At Rod Laver Arena this year, fans have started to mimic Azarenka during her matches. Stay tuned for more of the same when the fans hear it from both sides of the court Saturday.
The 22-year-old Azarenka and 24-year-old Sharapova are 3-3 in head-to-head meetings. But Azarenka holds the edge in two finals, having beaten Sharapova in straight sets at Stanford in 2010 and in Florida last year.
“It’s very different, you cannot really look back,” Azarenka said. “It’s always difficult to play somebody you’ve beaten before. They have extra motivation to beat you.”
If Azarenka wins the final, she would be only the third player to rise to the top ranking after her first Grand Slam win. Martina Navratilova rose to No. 1 for the first time after winning Wimbledon in 1978, while Ana Ivanovic did the same after winning the 2008 French Open.
A win by Sharapova would mark the fourth time in the Russian’s career that she’s held the top ranking, the most recent in June 2008. Overall, she’s been No. 1 for 17 nonconsecutive weeks.
Sharapova dismisses any thoughts of playing for the top ranking.
“Having been in the position before … I think, for me, it’s more about the Grand Slam win than the No. 1 ranking,” she said. “That’s just always been the goal for me.”
It’s been four years since Sharapova won the last of her three major titles _ here in 2008, and nearly eight years since she lifted the Wimbledon trophy at 17. In between, she won the U.S. Open in 2006.
“It means so much to be back in a Grand Slam final,” Sharapova said. “It’s nice to get that far again (here) after losing quite early in the last couple of years.”