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Sharapova has already been on tour long enough to experience the ups and downs of tennis. After winning the 2008 Australian Open, she had shoulder surgery that sidelined her for nine months.

It took much longer for her to get back to anywhere near her peak, and she lost at the Australian Open before the quarterfinals on her last two visits. She reached the Wimbledon final last year, but lost to Petra Kvitova _ the player she beat in Thursday’s semifinals.

“With the shoulder, I knew some examples of some people that did not quite recover from surgery and that was a little frightening, but I really had no option,” she said. “Of course it took a long time and it was a process, but it was just something that was in my steps that I had to go through. And I did.”

A handful of women came into the tournament with a chance to hold the No. 1 ranking at the end of it. Caroline Wozniacki ensured she’d vacate the top spot when she lost to defending champion Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

Azarenka, by beating Clijsters in the semifinals, took her winning streak to 11 matches after claiming the Sydney International title ahead of the Australian Open.

Like Sharapova, Azarenka has dropped just two sets in Melbourne, including one against Clijsters in the semifinals.

“She’s a really, really good player, and I haven’t had great success against her in the last couple of events that we’ve played against each other,” Sharapova said. “I’d really like to change that. It will be important to tactically play right. She makes you hit a lot of balls and she’s aggressive as well.”

Azarenka agreed strategy will be involved.

“It’s a battle for giving really your all and how well you can manage it,” the Belarusian said. “I know Maria’s game; she knows my game. So of course it’s going to be a little bit of a similarity there.”