• Wimbledon, Day Eight

Azarenka hits form as battle for No. 1 hots up

ESPN staff
July 2, 2012

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Sharapova dumped out by Lisicki
Serena sets up Kvitova clash
Federer survives injury scare
Djokovic powers into quarters
Murray thwarted by rain

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As the world No. 1 crashed out on Manic Monday, the woman she replaced at the top of the world rankings flexed her muscles.

Having seen Sharapova's bid to win back-to-back grand slam titles shattered at the hands of Sabine Lisicki, Victoria Azarenka stepped on court knowing victory over Ana Ivanovic (another former world No. 1) would take her a step closer to securing her return to world No. 1.

She didn't just beat Ivanovic, she annihilated her - romping to a 6-1 6-0 victory in an hour - winning 63 of the 97 points. A delay to shut the roof on Centre Court failed to hold her back; not even a flutter of feathers could distract her.

When the players did emerge from the dressing room after the roof had been closed and the atmosphere sufficiently regulated - Azarenka was the picture of concentration. While Ivanovic nervously jogged up and down, the Belarusian bobbed and jived to the music emanating from her earphones.

With her loud extended shriek one of the more irritating on the women's tour, Azarenka is not the most popular player. Her grunting, amplified in the enclosed amphitheatre under the roof, was a sound to behold.

But, as in the words of Rudyard Kipling, Azarenka has held her head while those around her have lost theirs: Sharapova following the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur and Venus Williams in making early exits at the All England Club.

Should Azarenka safely navigate her way past the unseeded Tamira Paszek, her big challenge will come in the semi-finals, where she will have to overcome either four-time winner Serena Williams or defending champion Petra Kvitova.

It is interesting to note that in her 26-match unbeaten streak earlier this season, Azarenka did not face Williams or Kvitova.

Azarenka has lost her last four matches against the Czech - including last year's semi-final at SW19, while Williams boasts a 7-1 record against her - including a victory in Madrid earlier this season.

On paper, the semi-final will be her biggest challenge. Should she make it to the final, Azarenka will face a first-time major finalist, with Agnieszka Radwanska, Sabine Lisicki, Angelique Kerber and Maria Kirilenko into the last eight on the top side of the draw.

It is a bottom-heavy draw. Desperate to prove she is not just a one-hit wonder following her Australian Open victory in January, Azarenka will have to reproduce the form that saw her pick up titles in Sydney, Doha and Indian Wells as well as her first grand slam, which saw her propelled to the world No. 1 spot.

That spot is up for grabs again, and based on her performance against Ivanovic, Azarenka could well be on course for her second major title.

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