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Azarenka maturity pays dividends

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What a difference two years can make. Against Serena Williams in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park in 2010, Victoria Azarenka was a set and 4-0 up and playing some fantastic tennis. She somehow conspired to lose.

This year, having made it to the final against Maria Sharapova, the Belarusian again led by a set and after a couple of early breaks in the second she found herself in exactly the same situation.

But this time around Azarenka is a completely different beast to the immature, emotionally-driven player that imploded back then. She held her nerve, took the set to love and deservingly lifted the title.

We shouldn't be surprised. For the past two weeks Azarenka has shown all the signs of a woman capable of standing on Rod Laver Arena cradling the trophy, as she did at the end of Saturday night's play.

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First there were a string of comfortable victories over lesser names before she registered a gutsy come-from-behind victory to topple Agneiszka Radwanska in the quarters that really made people sit up and notice.

Then there was that sensational victory over the woman she has now replaced as champion, Kim Clijsters.

Both victories proved how far she has come, but she still needed to win the final to complete her journey. Caroline Wozniacki, the outgoing world number one, knows how damaging it can be not to take that final step of the journey.

Yet Azarenka managed what has so far remained elusive to Wozniacki - at the first time of asking, too - with a famous win over a celebrated opponent in a Grand Slam final.

That she avoided any emotional meltdowns or choking incidents on the biggest stage was reflective of how tough mentality she has been over the course of this tournament - and that is the sign of a champion.

With the win, she also claimed the world number one ranking, deservedly so. Her next challenge will be to hang on to it and fend off those all around her who will now be looking to gun her down. Having a big target on your back now comes with the territory.

She will also look to take advantage of the lack of a single dominating figure in the women's game. If she can, perhaps a new age of women's dawned on Rod Laver Arena tonight: a Victorian age.

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See? Eleven paragraphs and not a single mention of a shriek. That's progress of sorts, too.

The match had been billed as the 'battle of grunt' but thankfully, no one inside the stadium found it necessary to comment openly on the screams following each other across the court.

The Rod Laver Arena crowd, so boisterous last night and vocally critical of Azarenka in previous matches, was largely subdued. There was no mimicking, no cat calls and no resentment towards the Belarusian banshee.

Her public appearances and interviews can take some of the credit for this new, rather accepting attitude towards her, as can her performances on the court, capped, obviously by this latest one.

When the two face off like this, it's far easier to compare their wails and, to be honest, Sharapova's noise is louder and more offensive.

Yet she gets off scott free as if it is a kind of respect afforded to champions. If that's the case, Azarenka should not expect too much grief here next year.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY:

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Victoria Azarenka can't quite believe she's won the title

SHOUT OF THE DAY: "Come on Shazza!" The cry from one bloke in the stands of Rod Laver Arena midway through the first set. It failed to have the desired effect though, as Mazza Shazza dropped the first and then the second without winning a single game.

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STAT OF THE DAY: This was just the second time in the Open era that the third and fourth seeds did battle for the Australian Open title. The other? When third seed Hana Mandlikova beat fourth seed Wendy Turnbull back in 1980.

LOOKING AHEAD: Novak Djokovic meets Rafael Nadal in the hotly-anticipated men's final. Will Nole be able to defend his Aussie Open crown? What is wrong with his fitness? Has Rafa still got what it takes to win another Grand Slam? Will he be able to hit back at his critics? Find out at 7.45am UK time.

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