|Victoria Azarenka kisses her trophy after defeating Maria Sharapova for the Australian Open title in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 28, 2012. (TIM WIMBORNE/Reuters)
MELBOURNE - Victoria Azarenka became a first-time Grand Slam titlist Saturday with a convincing straight-set victory over Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open women's final.
The third-seeded Azarenka downed Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 at Rod Laver Arena to run her winning streak to a personal-best 12 matches after claiming the Sydney championship before the year's first major. She will achieve another first in her career, ascending to No. 1 in the world rankings on Monday -- dethroning Caroline Wozniacki.
"I have been dreaming and working so hard to win the Grand Slam, and being No. 1 is pretty good bonus for that," Azarenka said.
Azarenka improved to 3-0 in hardcourt finals against the 24-year-old Sharapova, whose last major title came at the 2008 Aussie Open.
"Obviously to get to the final is a good achievement, but to end up being the one that loses is always tough, no matter what sport you're in," Sharapova said. "But I'm proud of the fact that I made it this far. It's been a few years since I've been in the finals of the Australian Open. It's a good start to the year for me. I have a lot to look forward to this year."
The fourth-seeded Russian was also the Aussie runner-up in 2007 and fell to 3-3 in her career Grand Slam finals.
By contrast, the 22-year-old Belarusian was making her debut in a Grand Slam final and became the youngest champion at Melbourne Park since Sharapova. Azarenka dropped only two sets throughout the entire fortnight en route to her 10th career title.
Sharapova, who lost to the last first-time major finalist, Petra Kvitova, at Wimbledon in 2011, broke Azarenka's first service game and shook off a double fault to hold at 15 and go up 2-0 in the first set.
"She really started aggressive," Azarenka said of Sharapova. "It kind of keep me a little bit off guard, because I tried to be aggressive myself and it didn't really work. I missed few shots."
Azarenka overcame some early jitters to turn the match into a rout, winning 12 of the next 13 games, including the final nine.
After rallying from 30-0 to hold serve, Azarenka broke back at love before Sharapova held with an ace in the sixth game. Azarenka then held with a lob after drawing Sharapova to the net with a drop shot and earned another break with a well-placed drop shot and backhand volley combo. She took the first set when Sharapova's return went into the net.
Azarenka was dominant in the second set, fighting off a break point in the second game and another in the sixth to set up her first championship point. Azarenka then dropped to her knees in disbelief after Sharapova hit the last of her 30 unforced errors.
"She did everything better than I did today," Sharapova said. "I had a good first couple of games, and that was about it."
The win places Azarenka in rare company as only the third player to have won singles titles in both the junior and women's event at the Australian Open, joining Chris O'Neil and Evonne Goolagong Cawley. She captured the junior crown seven years ago.
Azarenka is the fourth consecutive first-time major champ.