|Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic kisses the trophy after her victory against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus (R) after the women's WTA tennis championships final match in Istanbul, October 30, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Istanbul, Turkey - Petra Kvitova raced out to the lead, then gutted out a three-set victory against Victoria Azarenka in Sunday's final at the season-ending $4.55 million WTA Championships.
Kvitova, seeded third, won the first four games of the match but needed to survive a comeback to earn a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win in nearly 2 1/2 hours.
The victory capped a breakout year for the 21-year-old Czech, who won six titles this year -- including Wimbledon. Kvitova also titled in Brisbane, Paris [Indoors], Madrid, and Linz, and will become the new world No. 2 after winning Sunday.
She will supplant Maria Sharapova, who Kvitova beat in the Wimbledon final. Sharapova was the last player to reach the final in her Championships debut, doing so in 2004, when she also claimed the Wimbledon title.
Azarenka could have become the No. 2-ranked player in the world with a victory, but didn't use her serve very effectively against Kvitova's return game. Azarenka, the fourth seed, put 77 percent of her first serves in play but won only 56 percent of those points. She was also broken five times.
Azarenka fell to 3-2 in title matches this season, while Kvitova improved to 4-2 against the Belarusian and collected $1.75 million for the victory.