Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Tennis [Print without images]

Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: February 21, 4:59 PM ET
Victoria Azarenka nails 17-match streak

By Sandra Harwitt
Special to ESPN.com

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka has three straight tournament victories in 2012.

DOHA, Qatar -- If Victoria Azarenka's exemplary performance during this week at the 10th anniversary Qatar Total Open is an accurate clue for what she's capable of producing, the 22-year-old could be destined for a long reign as No. 1.

Azarenka is setting exceptionally high standards for fellow players who might have the notion of infiltrating her hold on the throne. From the minute she arrived in Doha -- her first tournament since winning the Australian Open and becoming No. 1 -- her positive thinking, tough-as-nails persona, and street smarts spoke volumes. Not to mention her tennis.

Confidence? How come confidence isn't on the list of attributes for how she's playing this year? Well, that's only in deference to the world No. 1 who apparently gives little value to the noun.

"I think confidence is very overrated," Azarenka said after winning the Doha title with a 6-1, 6-2 demolition of fifth-ranked Sam Stosur in 67 minutes. "You know, it's something invisible, something you cannot explain, right? It's just every time you step on the court you try to find the way to beat your opponent. You know, one word, 'confidence,' or whatever it is, you know, is not going to help you. You have to go through the tough moments like pain, like ache, I don't know, like nerves, so you have to go through all that."

Azarenka's recitation on confidence came across as quite eloquent. Nevertheless, while she can dispute the concept of self-assuredness all she wants, confidence seems to be oozing out of every one of her pores.

On top of that she's winning. Could we be looking at this year's Novak Djokovic of the women's tour? Well, at this juncture, it certainly seems very plausible.

She's coming off of three straight tournament victories this year -- and five consecutive final appearances with four titles dating back to last season. This year, she's won Sydney, the Australian Open, and now the Doha Total Open, a victory that came complete with a gold Falcon-shaped trophy presented by Her Highness Shiekha Moza bint Nasser.

Azarenka is now on a 17-match winning streak. That's better than Justine Henin's 16-0 streak to open her 2004 season.

But there are better streaks for Azarenka to try and surpass. Martina Hingis won 37 straight matches to start the 1997 season, taking six titles along the way. There's Serena Williams 21 straight matches to open her 2003 season, including three titles.

Right now, Azarenka is only one victory away from equaling Maria Sharapova's 18-match winning run at the start of 2008, which delivered titles at the Australian Open and Doha.

Dominating the start of the 2012 season, and settled with her top ranking, nothing seems able to stop Azarenka. Not even a painful turned left ankle during her semifinal match could dissuade the Belarussian from carrying on. Indeed, she winced through her 6-2, 6-4 win over Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinal. On Sunday, she worked to keep the points short because of the ankle, and looked tack sharp in the final against Stosur.

"It's not as bad as it could have been, so I'm really glad about that," Azarenka said of the ankle after taking the title. "You know, I have a couple of days to recover and see how I feel. Right now, I just want to enjoy the moment and not to think too much ahead."

Azarenka got on top of Stosur at 1-1 in the first set when a forehand hit the net and dropped onto Stosur's side on a second break point in the game. She never offered Stosur a shot at breaking her serve, and she managed to break the Australian five times in the match.

Stunningly, it was exactly a year ago that the Azarenka who is playing winning tennis these days was wondering whether she even wanted to continue playing.

Hindsight is a marvelous tool of reflection, and a tool that Azarenka used this year to evaluate herself a year ago: "Last year by this time I was a little bit of a mess. You know, I couldn't control any of my emotions, and I didn't really enjoy any part of playing tennis."

In fact, she was so dismayed by a heart-wrenching 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 first-round loss to Daniela Hantuchova here last year, she left Doha to go home and contemplate the future.

"I lost a really, really bad match here and a few before that," she said, during the week. "It was just not fun for me to do because I'm the type of player that plays with a lot of passion, a lot of desire. Every time I was stepping on the court it was like a misery to me. I didn't really want to be in that misery."

Consulting with her mother, and long conversations with her "inspirational" grandmother, and Azarenka came around to the notion she should pick up her racket and get back to what she does best.

"You know, she's one of the most optimistic people on the planet, and she's always happy," said Azarenka, explaining how her grandmother helped rekindle her desire to play. "She always puts me in a good mood. Doesn't matter if I'm down on myself or whatever. She just makes me happy."

One year later and there is no misery in sight for Azarenka. There's joy and success. She's sitting on top of the world, at least the tennis world.

But is she basking in the glory and going, "Wow, I'm No. 1?" Not really, at least if one believes what she's saying: "Of course, it's a great feeling to have, also a lot of responsibility and pressure I would say comes with it. I worked really hard to achieve this moment and I enjoy this position, but I still have to remember to work hard, because there is a lot of girls behind me who want to chase me and be at my spot."

****

And here's a P.S. from Azarenka on the continual issue of her excessive grunting. Basically, she says, get over it.

She had this exchange with a reporter after her match.

Azarenka: "Let me put it this way: Do you snore?"

Reporter: "I do, actually."

Azarenka: "Can you control that?"

Reporter: "Well, there are ways, I guess."

Azarenka: "There are ways. But you still snore, right?"

Reporter: "Yeah."

Azarenka: "So it's natural to you, right. So that's natural to me, too, the way I play tennis. That's it."